Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Colorado Springs veterans cherish their service - and their motorcycles

By Erin Prater Updated: November 12, 2013 at 6:01 pm

No drugs.

No guns.

No attitudes.

Outside the 10-acre property owned by the Colorado Springs chapter of the Veterans Motorcycle Club hangs a vivid red sign with those six words stenciled in bold, black letters.

They serve as a warning - not to the maladapted veteran who might show up to cause trouble, but to anyone who would seek to, civilian or otherwise.

The sign is a preventative measure, says Air Force Staff Sgt. Dan Levindofske, an explosives and hazardous materials inspector assigned to Peterson Air Force Base and public affairs officer for VMCCS.

The club - for American motorcycle-riding troops who have served honorably - has never in its 17-year history been involved with illegal activity, Levindofske says.

In fact, it doubles as a nonprofit that donates thousands of dollars each year to the community's needy troops, veterans and children.

Though the public may see its tattooed, black leather-sporting members and assume the worst, they - and the vast majority of motorcycling veterans, Levindofske contends - are peace-loving, law-abiding citizens who cope with the aftermath of war on two wheels, the wind at their back.

Because many VMCCS members are active-duty troops, Department of Defense civilians or civilian contractors, "it's not a possibility to come out here and do something silly: You'd be threatening somebody's security clearance or career," Levindofske said.

He was in attendance Saturday at the chapter's Calhan property as members prepared chili and potato salad for an end-of-the-riding-season party.

"That sign is to let folks know that, yeah, we may open the doors to you, but we're not going to open the doors to your bad stuff. And we don't have any issues out here. It's a beautiful thing."

'Thicker than blood'

Had there been no World War II, there wouldn't be motorcycle clubs - at least not as they exist today, said William Dulaney, professor of organizational communication for the U.S. Air Force Culture and Language Center, member of the Hell on Wheels motorcycle club and a veteran.

"Motorcycle clubs are a function of military service, period," said Dulaney, who has served as a subject-matter expert in The History Channel, Discovery Channel and National Geographic Channel documentaries on motorcycle clubs.

In the U.S., motorcycle clubs began forming shortly after motorized bicycles became readily available to the public in the early 1900s. Clubs offered owners a chance to travel, race, drink and hang out together, according to Dulaney.

Initially, the country's entrance into World War II - and the subsequent deployment of millions of young men overseas - stunted the growth of the clubs.

As those men returned from war, many turned to motorcycles to replicate the adrenaline rush of combat they craved. The exodus that nearly killed the motorcycle club became its lifeblood.

It's a scenario that's played out time and time again as troops return from major conflicts such as Korea, Vietnam and the global war on terror - and there's a reason for it, Dulaney says.

While at war, troops discover an intense brotherhood. Such bonds are harder to find in the civilian world, he says.

"War is sporadic - periods of conflict with humongous periods of boredom in between," Dulaney said. "It's during those periods in between where you become thicker than blood - where you talk philosophy, argue over pop culture, music. You argue, then you fight. ... You coalesce again to a single, cohesive unit and you deal with it. You just can't find that in society when you come back."

Clubs provide dignity, purpose and power to those who were warriors overseas, but find themselves unsung barkeeps and janitors on the home front.

"You can be regarded as a righteous brother though you may line the back of a trash collection truck," Dulaney said. "You can be an absolute king and prince in biker subculture based on your honor and integrity."

The type of brotherhood many combat-hardened veterans silently long for is easy to find the ranks of the VMCCS, Levindofske said.

"The love here, the family we have here, most men will never experience," Levindofske said. "Here, we have it in spades."

Giving back

Staying out of trouble is no trouble for the boys of the VMCCS.

Even if they were looking for it, they're preoccupied with running their charity.

"There's no silly stuff going on here except maybe a little too much huggin' and maybe some beers," Levindofske said. "Outside of that, it's working. Running a nonprofit is truly work at all times."

Three years ago, the club became a registered nonprofit. Among its first official good deeds: giving a check and clothing to every resident of the Bruce McCandless State Veterans Home at Florence, and modifying a motorcycle for a wounded Fort Carson soldier.

"Every party we have, every dollar we make goes to a good cause," Levindofske said. "We're riding for a reason."

More recently, that's meant raising money for a local veteran whose son is in need of expensive cancer medicine that insurance won't cover. Sometimes assistance the club offers is simpler and more subtle, like purchasing new tools and a snow blower for the veterans home's maintenance worker.

"Stuff like that can slip through the cracks, but we make sure it doesn't," Levindofske said. "When you bring a bunch of like-minded military individuals together, they can accomplish a lot. Hopefully, one day we'll build a house for a veteran."

The club isn't unique in its quest to do right by society, Levindofske said.

Several area veterans' motorcycle clubs are nonprofits. What's more, nearly all motorcycle associations - even so called "one percent" clubs like Hell's Angels and the Bandidos - do charity work. There are veterans in every motorcycle club, and the vast majority are generous, law-abiding citizens, Levindofske says.

"There isn't a single motorcycle club in this area, region or nation that we don't get along with, that we don't see out on the road," he said. "They all have the same mindsets as we do. You go to big meetings and 99 percent of the people in the room - raise their hands when you ask if they're military. A lot of these clubs have a bad rap, and they're actually just normal folks."

Supporting the troops

If charitable military-themed motorcycle clubs like the VMCCS - with members in their 20s, 30s and 40s - are the face of America's newest generation of veterans, it's because they've worked their way into society's good graces - not because they've cleaned up their act, Levindofske contends.

Today's veterans' motorcycle clubs are generous, but their World War II, Korea and Vietnam-era predecessors were equally so.

The core of today's VMCCS "is the same as the core of similar groups in the 1940s and 1950s," Levindofske said.

He wishes Americans would realize that many of the uniform-clad troops whose hands they shake in the airport are the same rough-and-tumble-looking bikers they so revile on the road.

"When folks see us riding down the road, there's an assumption there," he said. "But just because there's a patch on somebody's back doesn't mean there's a connotation with it. I'm OK with someone not wanting to come up and give me a hug. At the same time, I'm not going to knock you out because you cut me off.

"Ninety-nine percent of those guys who wear patches are military. The community needs to recognize that. You're flipping some guy off, and he's a first sergeant. You probably should have thought about that."

Dulaney agrees.

"Chances are, you're looking at a person who has served their country and asked for nothing in return but a modicum of respect," he said.

"I see American flags plastered on the backs of cars and bumper stickers that say 'support the troops.' But what have you done?

"Reach out to those folks," Dulaney said.

"Tell them, 'Hey, man, thanks for your sacrifice.'"

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