Feeling the sound of Thunder...

Wednesday, June 8, 2016
Local and state police officers escort an estimated 850 motorcyclists down East 8th North Street on Sunday as they completed the drive from Meridian during this year's Patriot Thunder event. Celebrating its seventh anniversary, the observance has already raised an estimated $40,000 to benefit military veterans and their families, including those with the Idaho National Guard at Gowen Field and others stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base.

They were still a few minutes away, but the rumbling sound was easily heard by people lining the sidewalks along East 8th North Street.

"Uh oh. They're coming," a youngster remarked as he looked down the street and saw lights flashing.

Daycen Rogers knew what that meant.

"It's the police," the three-year-old told his family as the sound grew louder with sirens temporarily drowning out the steady roar.

Rounding the corner and driving down the street, the source of the thunderous sound became very clear as a group of police motorcycles led a procession of approximately 850 motorcycles through the streets of Mountain Home.

People standing along the road waved as the bikes rolled past as they showed their support for a yearly event aimed at showing appreciation for those who serve their nation. On Sunday, the sound of Patriot Thunder returned to Mountain Home as motorcycle riders from cities across southern Idaho completed their annual trek from Meridian.

Celebrating its seventh year, Patriot Thunder represents the state's premier military family charity motorcycle event that directly helps service members, veterans and their families, according to event spokesman Todd Godfrey. It also represents the largest charity event for bike organizations in the state.

"This is about giving back to those who serve," Godfrey said. "There's no one better to give back to than those who serve in the U.S. military."

Once the motorcycles left Meridian, they made a direct path along the interstate to Mountain Home. With state police providing escort, the procession entered Mountain Home at Exit 95 and made an immediate turn onto East 8th North.

Along the way, a number of people lined the street and waved at the passing procession. Among them were youngsters like Easton and Miley Liebegott, whose parents found a shady spot beneath a tree just two minutes before the motorcycles started to pass by.

"We just wanted to show the kids. They'd never seen it before," said their mother, Ali Liebegott.

This year's riders concluded their route in Carl Miller Park with their motorcycles filling most of North 10th East street. From there, they chatted with one another and enjoyed a meal provided by local American Legion representatives.

"Today was the best in seven years. It was steady the entire way," said Allen Niksich as he discussed the eight-mile procession of motorcycles that proceeded down the interstate to Mountain Home.

Proceeds collected this year will benefit Mountain Home Air Force Base's Operation Warmheart and the Idaho Guard and Reserve Family Support Fund. These funds will also support Phantom Fury, a new organization started by a former Marine to help veterans battling post traumatic stress disorder.

The total number of riders was smaller compared to the nearly 1,000 bikes that participated last year. However, Godfrey said the summertime heat may have kept away some riders this year.

However, those temperatures didn't discourage people like James Gooding from participating.

"Once we got up to speed, it was OK," said Gooding, who serves with the first sergeants association at Mountain Home Air Force Base.

The only time the heat became a factor was when the procession started to "Slinky" with the gaps between the motorcycles shortening and then extending out as riders sped up or slowed down along the route, he added.

This year's procession was a bit shorter compared to last year when it stretched along 10 miles of the interstate. However, Bill Smart of Boise emphasized the ride was still "awesome."

"Just to see that many motorcycles on the highway without any cars in the way was all worth it," said Smart, whose father retired from the Marine Corps following 23 years in uniform.

In addition, all the proceeds collected go to supporting military veterans, "which is the best thing to do," he added.

Among those making their first ride during Patriot Thunder was Cory Bland from Nampa. Two of his friends were going on the trek and encouraged him to join them.

"It's good to support our military and veterans. It's for a good cause," said Bland, who serves in the Idaho Army National Guard and completed one tour of duty in Iraq.

As of Monday, organizers were continuing to count the amount of money raised this year. According to Godfrey, they expected to break the $40,000 mark once they finish collecting money from corporate sponsors, who had pledged additional money toward this year's event.

Patriot Thunder represents how Americans come together to recognize the sacrifices of not only those in uniform but the families they regularly leave behind to serve in combat zones around the world, said Col. Jefferson O'Donnell, commander of the 366th Fighter Wing at the local Air Force base. Efforts like this emphasizes what it takes to serve this nation as well as the burden these veterans and their families deal with every day.

"It's patriotic giving back to our wounded warriors -- our wounded heroes. I love it. It's great," added Mayor Rich Sykes, who has completed the ride three times since its debut in 2009.

Over the years, Patriot Thunder has taken on a "life of its own," Godfrey said.

"Once we start planning it each year, all the pieces just fall into place," he added.

The goal is to keep Patriot Thunder growing so it can raise even more money to help those who serve this nation, Godfrey said.

"These young men and women sacrifice so much, and at times their families sacrifice even more," Godfrey added. "It's important that we recognize that those who marry a service member also marry into the military, so it's important to care for them as well."