East County military veterans forming first area American Legion Riders chapter for motorcyclists

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The minister on the motorcycle is a man with a new mission.

Wayne P. Clark has served in multiple roles throughout his life. After attending prep school, he was the only graduate from his class to enlist directly into the U.S. military. He retired in from the Navy in 2007, after career service of 23 years, separating at the rank of Senior Chief Quartermaster (QMCS).

The minister on the motorcycle is a man with a new mission.

Wayne P. Clark has served in multiple roles throughout his life. After attending prep school, he was the only graduate from his class to enlist directly into the U.S. military. He retired in from the Navy in 2007, after career service of 23 years, separating at the rank of Senior Chief Quartermaster (QMCS).

Clark attended Southern California Seminary with post-9/11 GI bill benefits, receiving a master’s degree on May 23. He is now working part time as associate pastor at the First Baptist Church of El Cajon. Then a widower with time, money and interest on his hands, about a year ago he bought a Harley-Davidson motorcycle he liked, took safety training and started riding. (Clark is now engaged to remarry.) Also about a year back, he was tapped as Commander for El Cajon’s American Legion Post 303.

And last fall, local motorcyclist Dan Kaercher contacted members of Post 303 to explore interest in forming an American Legion Riders chapter affiliated with the El Cajon Post, as East County’s first ALR group for military veterans and their family members who ride motorcycles. Clark’s initial response was “Oh, yeah.”

As Post Commander, Clark is ineligible under ALR bylaws to serve as a Chapter officer, but he is enthusiastically supporting efforts to stand up a Legion Riders organization here. Kaercher is the one “bringing it forward,” according to Clark.

Several Legionnaires belonging to Post 303 are riders, and the nearest ALR chapter in San Diego County is associated with Kearny Mesa’s Albert J. Hickman Post 460. Moreover, East County is prime riding territory, offering everything from back-roads routes through isolated country, to straight-shot desert trips, to challenging, twisty mountain runs and easy, leisurely day rides.

As Clark points out, Southern California across the board is motorcyclist heaven. He places the number here at over 300 good riding days a year.

But he further notes the difficulties and “inherent dangers” of motorcycling. He regularly rides along Washington Avenue into downtown El Cajon for work. He relates that he has had “several near-death experiences” while riding, because motorcyclists are “invisible” to car drivers and “bikes don’t have bumpers and doors” as collision protection.

Post 303 Legionnaire rolls stood at 424 members, as of mid-May. Legion membership is open to anyone who served on active duty during periods in which the nation was engaged in military hostilities. Female family members of those eligible for The American Legion may join the American Legion Auxiliary. Male offspring of military veterans eligible as Legionnaires may join the Sons of The American Legion, including adopted sons and stepsons. Any member of these American Legion Family organizations who owns and rides a motorcycle can become a member of an American Legion Riders Chapter. Five Riders are needed for official chartering of an ALR Chapter.

Unlike many other American Legion Posts, El Cajon Post 303 has no permanent building as home. The Post relocated its official general membership gatherings in January, moving to meeting spaces in the El Cajon Valley School District offices at 750 E. Main Street., and meeting at 7 p.m. on each third Wednesday of the month. Post 303 members also get together on Saturday mornings for social breakfasts at a rotating set of restaurants around El Cajon.

Not having a clubhouse both poses challenges and solves problems for the Post and the incipient Riders Chapter, Wayne Clark notes. He confides that he is a pastor and not a teetotaler, and further that the Navy is the only branch of military service that mentions drinking alcohol in lyrics of its anthem.

Bar income supports Legion activities for Posts, and a permanent Post clubhouse is conducive to informal meet-ups and readily invites drop-by veterans to become members. But no in-house bar also translates into no problems dealing with intoxicated members and guests, as no bar further eliminates possible problems with dishonest employees tempted to “dip into the till.” And for a Riders Chapter, no bar means no Legionnaire Riders biking off from the clubhouse meeting “hammered,” Clark says too.

Clark envisions as his “best guess” that this first East County Riders Chapter will deepen and strengthen support for ongoing Post 303 programs, and will follow the pattern of a series of rotating meeting places. Throughout The American Legion, Riders Chapters are known for injecting new life into the organization’s veterans services. The El Cajon Legion Post takes on as signature programs those assisting children and youth and wounded warriors. For example, for this year’s California Boys State 2015 in June, Post 303 is sponsoring and paying expenses for seven local young men to attend the weeklong participatory exercise in democratic self-government, which is the largest Boys State delegate contingent from any Post in San Diego County. And over the past couple of years, Post 303 has raised $5,000 on behalf of wounded warriors support programs. Post 303 Legionnaires have also been appearing at each year’s Mother Goose Parade, an event especially attractive for Riders participation as entry partners.

Clark recounts that Kaercher and other interested East County Legionnaires have settled on an interim set of officers and are in the “hoop jumping phase” of forming ALR Chapter 303. Those interested in the group have held a couple of informational meetings already and are preparing to apply for their charter.

“There is strength in numbers,” Clark concludes of the added camaraderie and safety of riding together.

The next informational meeting about formation of ALR Chapter 303, for anyone interested in possible membership, will be held on Tuesday, June 9, at 7 p.m. at Santee’s Ranch House Restaurant, 11510 Woodside Avenue.