Q. What do you guys do, exactly?
A. The Northwest Iowa chapter of the American Legion Riders does a lot of stuff. Primarily we support the American Legion. We do a lot of fundraising, and we donate a lot of stuff to charity, and we have a lot of fun doing it. If there’s a parade or ceremony you may see Legion Riders there. We all like our bikes, so we ride a lot. One of our major duties is, sadly, to serve as honor guard in military funerals, and to man flag lines. Hog roasts and Christmas parties and rides in the country mixed in with the occasional honor guard duty or fund-raiser… Generally, the NWIAALR guys are a bunch of good people having a good time and doing good things. It’s all good.
Q. Who is eligible to join the American Legion Riders?
A. To be a member of the ALR, you must be a current member in good standing of the American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary, or Sons of the American Legion, and own a motorcycle of at least 350cc displacement complete with a valid driver’s license. (If your spouse is in the ALR, you’re automatically eligible to join too.)
Q. Okay… So, who’s eligible to join the American Legion and all that?
A. To be a member of the American Legion, you must have served at least one day of active duty during a time of conflict. According to the American Legion “Join Us” page, the dates of eligibility are:
- Aug. 2, 1990 to today (Gulf War / War On Terrorism)
- Dec. 20, 1989 to Jan. 31, 1990 (Panama)
- Aug. 24, 1982 to July 31, 1984 (Lebanon / Grenada)
- Feb. 28, 1961 to May 7, 1975 (Vietnam War)
- June 25, 1950 to Jan. 31, 1955 (Korean War)
- Dec. 7, 1941 to Dec. 31, 1946 (World War II)
- April 6, 1917 to Nov. 11, 1918 (World War I)
To join the Sons of the American Legion, you must be a male descendant of a Legion member. You are also eligible to join the SAL if you’re a male descendant of a veteran who died in a conflict, or was honorably discharged after serving in a conflict and subsequently passed away.
Women who are eligible for membership in the Legion are also eligible to belong to the Legion Auxiliary, as are women who are directly related to a member of the American Legion.
These are the basics. I encourage you to do a bit of research on your own to make sure you’re eligible – you might have to track down your DD214 (they have copies at the courthouse if you can’t find yours, or you can request one online).
Q. Cool, I’m eligible to join the ALR. How do I join?
A. The easiest way is just to show up at a meeting, or look for someone with the ALR colors on the back of their vest, tap ’em on the shoulder and tell ’em you wanna join. Feel free to e-mail us through our “Contacts” page, too. The Northwest Iowa chapter has a nominal fee for annual dues (ten bucks), and you need to fill out a piece of paper. That’s about it, really.
If you’d like, you can download a PDF of the membership form HERE, or you can download the same thing as a Word document by clicking HERE. That way you can fill it out at home if you want, without having five guys breathing down your neck asking silly questions…
Q. You mentioned a vest… Does the ALR have a uniform? What’s up with that?
A. No, no uniform, per se. There are patches you can buy to put on your vest or coat (the patches, or “colors” can’t go on anything other than black leather, however – no denim vests or anything like that) and a nifty beret you can wear. There are some regulations about where on your vest the patches can be sewn — American flag on the front left, small ALR patch below the flag, colors and rockers centered on the back of the vest, the rest is pretty much up to you. Oh, please make sure your rockers touch the center patch on the back — that’s important! We don’t want to be mistaken for an M/C (Motorcycle Club) as their rockers are set apart from their center patch. The ALR now makes back patches with the rockers and center patch as one unit, which makes things easier.
The easiest and safest way to make sure you get the correct patches is to come to a meeting – we order the patches in batches (batches of patches!) for our new members to make sure we’re all on the same page. There’s a guy right on Central Avenue in Le Mars who sews ’em on for us – just go to Rust Boots and tell them you’re with the ALR, they know where all the patches are supposed to go and stuff. They even sell vests there if you need one.
From time to time someone will ask if we should all wear the same kind of shirts or something. That’s generally shot down pretty quickly. All we ask, really, is that you wear the vest, colors and beret with pride, and try not to look TOO awfully grungy when you’re representing the group. T-shirt and jeans are fine, as long as there’s a minimum of extraneous fabric ventilation.
When we’re riding, dress for safety and comfort first.
Q. I heard something about shaving your beret. What gives?
A. Heck, I don’t know. A couple of the guys tell me that the berets look better if you shave ’em down with some kind of shaver-thing you can buy at Wal-Mart. I borrowed a gadget from Tailgunner and shaved my beret every night for three nights and I can’t really tell the difference. I’m starting to think Tailgunner was just messin’ with me.
Q. Are you guys affiliated with the Patriot Guard Riders? What’s the difference?
A. The two associations are closely linked, there’s no doubt about that, but they are separate organizations. There are no eligibility requirements to be a Patriot Guard Rider, just the willingness to participate in PGR missions. (More on that can be seen on their website – http://patriotguard.org/.) Most ALR members also belong to the PGR, and sometimes the Northwest Iowa chapter will all kinda meet up and ride to PGR functions together. There is NO competition between the two groups – the Northwest Iowa chapter of the ALR strongly supports the PGR.
The main difference between the groups is that the Patriot Guard focuses mainly on assisting at military funerals and “Welcome Home” rides, while the ALR has monthly meetings and does a lot of other stuff in addition to PGR missions.
Q. Do you guys have dues?
A. Yeah. Ten bucks a year, due in January. We do have a three-month grace period, so if you join in November (for example), you don’t have to pay again just two months later in January.
Q. I saw you guys doing honor guard duty by holding a flag line. I noticed a flag standing on its own next to a pair of combat boots. Why is that?
A. The empty boots represents one of our members who passed away recently. George would never miss the opportunity to honor a fallen service member. Now that he’s gone, we still continue his service… So the empty boots are our friend who’s gone ahead of us.