BY ADRANISHA STEPHENS
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Martinsburg VA Medical Center hosted its annual Operation God Bless America Motorcycle ride this Sunday.
Since the first “Operation God Bless America” ride in 1991, local motorcycle enthusiasts have been gathering from across the tri-state area, riding to show support for veterans. Motorcyclists from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia gather each year to raise funds for veteran patients of the Martinsburg VA center and to honor those who have served.
The riders traveled through the patriotic avenue lined with U.S. flags donated by the families of deceased veterans.
“This is 27 years that this ride has been happening,” said AJ Davenport, president of the OGBA Ride Officers Steering Committee. “My wife Mary Anne and I have been in charge of it for the last 22 years.”
Davenport said the first ride started out when Operation Desert Storm was happening in the 90s.
“We raised money to buy personal care items to send to the vets who were serving at that time,” Davenport said. “Before the ride took place, the conflict was over so we decided to raise the money anyway and give it to the patients here at the VA center, and we have been here ever since. Over the past 27 years we have raised thousands of dollars. But it’s not just about the money to us though, it’s about getting people to come down here and visit with our vets, letting them know that we didn’t forget about them.”
Theo Chambers, 10th District commander for the American Legion, was among the Operation Bless America motorists.
“I am always the seventh bike coming in every year, “ Chambers said. “We had over 2,000 people signed up to ride. We had some extras, so in total around 3,000 people rode today. I have been riding since 1998, joined the steering committee in 2000 and I am also a part of the Base Honor Guard.”
Chambers said what he most enjoys about this event is the money raised goes directly to the veterans themselves.
“What I really enjoy about what we are doing here is the money goes straight to the actual individuals,” Chambers said. “We think about what they may need. A couple years ago the steering committee put in sidewalks for the veterans to get down and see the gardens on site. We also helped raise money so some veterans could participate in a wheelchair games tournament in Louisiana a couple days ago.”
According to Chambers, the event brought together people from many different areas.
“This is really a big event and I have met a lot of people today. There were riders from Michigan, and I met a guy from California whose son serves and they rode together. This is my VA, I actually come to this center, so I love the support and I’d like to see more people come in and visit,” Chambers said.
There were also different organizations present to provide information on women’s health, enrollment in health care, homelessness and other outreach teams.
Sarah Tolstyka, public affairs specialist for the VA, said she appreciates the hard work being done by the Operation God Bless America group and staff at the VA medical center.
“We have veterans that can’t maybe leave their rooms, so the nurses and staff members make sure they can see them through their windows,” Tolstyka said. “To me, that is the really touching part. We are incorporating and encompassing every part of this medical center. We also have a live feed going from the roof for veterans that can’t get out of bed or cant move — they can turn to a certain channel and watch the motorcycles coming in. That’s the part that I really enjoy about hosting this event. I love seeing everyone come out and support our veterans — it is really amazing.”
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