The American Legion Riders (ALR) are all-inclusive and welcoming. Any American Legion Family member – Legion, American Legion Auxiliary and Sons of The American Legion – who meet the Riders’ eligibility requirements are eligible to join. In an effort to reach current and eligible ALR members, the Department of California put together a few videos to present a clearer picture of what the riders are all about. Watch the department videos here. “Being an American Legion Rider transcends generations,” said Mick Sobczak, head of the Department of California ALR program. Sobczak served in both the Marine Corps and the Army and retired as a combat engineer from the Army. He is a 10-year Legion member and the son of a 32-year Legion member from New York.
The California Legion Riders looked for a way to promote their 89 existing chapters and also improve awareness and membership within the American Legion Family. They are especially looking to include women and younger riders. Past Hollywood Post 43 Commander Jeric Wilhelmsen filmed three rides in California with the help of Dennis Kee, a founder and leader of Chapter 43's ALR program. “We took a ride out to Malibu and down the Pacific Coast Highway,” Wilhelmsen said. The other shoots took them to Bakersfield and Monterey Bay. The videos showed the world-class scenic rides of Southern California but focused on the Riders. Watch Chapter 43's video here. Sobczak knew Wilhelmsen had the skills to help execute the informative videos. They met when Wilhelmsen filmed the 2017 American Legion Legacy Run, which raises funds for the Legacy Scholarship that supports children of veterans who died on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001, or children of post-9/11 veterans who have a combined VA disability rating of 50 percent or greater.
Wilhelmsen was so inspired by the way Riders from the entire country came together that he wanted to be a part of it himself. He was an integral part of starting a new Legion Riders chapter at Hollywood Post 43. “When I got back to my home post I heard that there was talk about starting a chapter, so I jumped on board and did everything I could do to help out in creating that chapter,” he said. When the Riders came to Hollywood Post 43 it was a perfect opportunity for Wilhelmsen to use his experience to develop and grow the chapter. “Our chapter really wanted to make splash and make our presence known and have the whole state or country know about us,” he said. “I thought it was important to have a strong social media presence. So, I immediately created our Facebook page, our Instagram page; in making those pages we needed content.” Wilhelmsen, a U.S. Army and Army Reserve veteran, now works as a video journalist with experience covering adventure races like the Race Across America.
Kee also gave his skills to the project. He is part of a group of about 18 combat camera people who are members of Post 43. This video project is intended to show exactly who the Legion Riders are and what they do. “We do a lot of veteran support activities,” Kee said. “We do welcome home activities, we do missions when groups deploy. We’re really proud. We’re just trying to get more Riders and to get everybody excited about it.” These videos are "to provide awareness and hit different demographics to show that we’re not locked.” Sobczak said. “And being that the Riders are the fastest growing program of The American Legion, we just figured these videos would take us to the next level.”
“It’s exciting to see the Auxiliary and the Sons involved,” Kee said.
One of the videos highlights a female veteran rider named Stephanie Chaing. “I was tired of being on the back seat and I wanted to do my own thing,” Chaing said. “I love riding with a pack, especially the Legion. It’s a proud feeling. I’m passionate about riding because it’s a therapeutic thing for me, but also to be able to come together and experience it as a family.” “Most people view us as the older guy riding a cruiser, and we use these videos, to show that there’s sports bikes, there’s cruisers, there’s men, there’s women, there’s Auxiliary, there’s (a SAL) squadron,” Sobczak said. “We tried to hit as many demographics as possible with these videos.”
“We are a program of The American Legion,” Sobczak said. “We are Legion Family members serving veterans and our community. We just happen to do it on motorcycle. If you’re in the military family and you want to ride, you’re welcome.” For Wilhelsen, the filming provided more than expected. “As I got opportunities to visit these various chapters, I was learning a lot of the history about the Department of California: how the Riders first got started here in California and how they developed. I really enjoyed learning the history of this state. As I was doing these interviews I realized that I was getting the history of the Riders. I was capturing a snapshot of the Riders in 2018.”
The Department of California American Legion Riders goal is to have 100 chapters for the 100-year anniversary of The American Legion in 2019.
“Training and membership are very important to me,” said Sobczak, a National Legion College graduate and instructor who helped develop California’s recent Legion College. “I’m a firm believer that if people understand our history and how the process works, we will not only get new members, but we’ll retain and maintain active members.” Wilhelmsen expressed the value of learning the history of the organization and meeting people who were part of some of the first Riders chapters. “I really hope that this archive of interviews of the current state of the Riders in 2018 is valued 50 years or 100 years from now,” he said.