- Associated Press - Monday, June 1, 2015

WAHPETON, N.D. (AP) - Funeral services for soldiers who have fallen are emotional ceremonies that have faced disruptions by groups in recent years. To turn this trend around, a national group with a North Dakota chapter has taken up the mission of protecting families who are laying their loved ones to rest.

This group is recognizable by the roar of the motorcycles they ride and the American Flags that fly in the wind as they travel across the countryside, the Wahpeton Daily News (http://bit.ly/1JMsMMT ) reported.

The national organization, Patriot Guard Riders, has a local chapter as well, the North Dakota Patriot Guard.

According to its website, the mission of the group is “to attend the funeral services of fallen American heroes as invited guests of the family . When necessary and invited to do so, we shield mourning family and friends from interruptions created by any protester or group of protesters.”

The Patriot Guard is rooted in Kansas, where it was started in 2005 by the American Legion Riders chapter 136 after they were appalled to hear of a soldier’s funeral being protested and decided to do something about it.

The first mission the group took on was in Oklahoma to provide relief from protesters at a funeral. Soon after on Oct. 18, 2005, the Patriot Guard name was established.

Tony Krogh, a Fargo resident and assistant state captain for the North Dakota Patriot Guard, joined in 2006 after hearing how the organization serves the military, to which he has a personal connection.

“A friend of mine was already involved in it and I always wanted to show appreciation for the military, especially since I have a brother who has been in the (U.S.) Navy,” Krogh said. “When I heard what was going on and what they were about and what they do, it just seemed like a natural fit.”

Some members of the Patriot Guard are veterans, but Krogh said the group is made up of people who come from all walks of life. Krogh added that while motorcycles are widely used by the Patriot Guard, it’s not a requirement to be a member.

“Many of us ride motorcycles. There’s an awful lot of other people, though, who show up in whatever way they can, so having a motorcycle is not a requirement to be part of it,” Krogh said. “We never made it about needing to have a bike or anything like that. I’ve always told people ‘I don’t care if you show up in a riding lawn mower, just be sure to come with honor and respect.’”

While the missions began as a focus on standing as a barrier between families at funerals and protesters, Krogh explained that the group’s goal is to serve the military and its veterans in whatever way it can.

“Besides being there for funerals, we also have been there for send offs and welcome home events,” Krogh said. “Here in North Dakota, we also hold a memorial annually where we honor specific families of those who have lost loved ones.

“This year, we are also recognizing and honoring those who have served but have lost the battle to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and so forth,” Krogh continued. “Part of the goal with that is to draw attention. A lot of times, suicide can be pushed to the background, it’s a hidden stigma that no one wants to talk about. We are hoping that this can be an opportunity to bring these families in and have them meet other families who have lost those they care about.”

As part of a larger, national organization, Krogh said the unit in North Dakota often works very closely with groups from Minnesota and South Dakota to provide the best service possible.

No matter where the group travels to for one of its ceremonies, though, something that is always present is the emotion.

“There’s been many touching moments,” Krogh said. “Many of them are very emotional because a lot of our members are veterans and they can relate and they know what it’s like to come back home. With that emotional side of it, I think it serves as a healing process, being able to see that they can make a difference.”

To the public, Krogh explained that the message the Patriot Guard wants people to take away is to never forget those who have served and who are still serving.

“Remember those who are serving,” Krogh said. “Even though we are not seeing the number of casualties right now that maybe we have in other times, we are still seeing them. Don’t forget about them.”

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Information from: Wahpeton Daily News, http://www.wahpetondailynews.com

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