This was the Wounded Warrior Project Fundraiser, The Freedom Ride and Freedom Jam.
Maria Rivera, director of operations for the American Legion, and Colette Haun, Beartooth Harley-Davidson marketing and event coordinator, joined forces in early April 2012 to host the first Freedom Ride and Freedom Jam to raise money and awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project. Scheduled on Armed Forces Day, the combination poker run (Freedom Ride) and after party (Freedom Jam) started at noon.
Over 52 riders turned out, which was considered a successful showing of support, due to the fact that there was a myriad of other local gatherings that took place during the same time. Once noon registration was complete, the days’ agenda was presented and included the following:
- A short opening speech from the keynote speaker, Wounded Warrior Project and Purple Heart Recipient, Cpt. John Michelotti, who spoke about the importance of the program, and how it directly helped him during the aftermath of his injury;
- Rededication of the dealership’s Wall of Heroes by Congressman Denny Rehberg. The Wall of Heroes is a collage of military pictures brought in by members of the community;
- Presenting of Arms by the American Legion’s Honor Guard;
- Pledge of Allegiance, led by Congressman Denny Rehberg;
- Patriotic musical tribute performed by the Billings Caledonian Pipes and Drums. With kickstands up at 1 p.m., the riders lined up side-by-side and left as a group for the 120-mile round-trip poker run.
Before the last poker stop, all riders were invited to meet at the local VA Center for a moment of reflection, and the opportunity to parade behind the Billings Police Department, and Wounded Warrior and Purple Heart Recipient, Cpt. John Michelotti, who rode Sweep during the entire ride. After the riders arrived at the American Legion, poker run winners were announced, raffle drawing winners were chosen, meals were eaten, the day was discussed, thank you(s) and recognition were given, and the band began to play -- signifying the end of the Freedom Ride and the beginning of the Freedom Jam. Proceeds from the Freedom Ride Poker Run totaled nearly $1,000. Although not a huge amount of money, the event was deemed a success as measured by feedback from the riders, and awareness generated from the event.
The Freedom Ride and Freedom Jam will be hosted in years to come, and it is the sincere hope of Beartooth Harley-Davidson/Buell, the American Legion, Post 4, and riders who participated in the event, that it continues to grow and raise awareness in the future. NOTE: Since the Freedom Ride and Freedom Jam, Beartooth Harley was approached by two other local organizations seeking support and guidance in their own Wounded Warrior Project events.