The American Legion Post 63 officially welcomed its newest organization — the American Legion Riders Post 63 — in April 2021, following years of work and determination by several community leaders.
Since its charter in 1920, the Winter Garden post has welcomed veterans from all branches of the armed forces with the aim of “implementing the goals, aspirations, dreams, peace and blessings for our country, friends and families,” according to the organization’s website.
Although this is a common goal for many of the American Legion posts, the riders in Winter Garden have the ability to bring the veteran community closer together than ever before.
Kurt Gies, commander of American Legion Post 63 and one of the founders of the riders in Winter Garden, and Bob Hughes, director of the Legion Riders 63, are two of the main faces behind the organization’s success.
Gies said the American Legion has many great programs, but a large number of members never got involved. He always noticed the riders at different events who seemed to be heavily involved and decided he wanted that for his own community post.
Although the commander said the formation of the local riders group took years of work, he shared the inspiration for the idea itself came naturally.
“To me, it’s what the American Legion represents,” he said. “It’s a group of people who come together for a common cause, which is supporting veterans.”
Hughes said he had a motorcycle and wanted someone to ride with, which is why he joined a previous post in Orlando. However, he and his wife wanted to be part of a more active group and came to the Winter Garden post after meeting Gies.
“It’s kind of like that smaller family inside of a bigger family kind of thing,” Hughes said. “Just to be a part of something where everyone recognizes you and rides for a purpose.”
“It’s one thing to go ride; it’s another thing to go ride with someone else,” Gies said. “It’s just fun.”
The local group now has six official riders with accompanying additional ride supporters. Anyone who is part of the American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary or the Sons of the American Legion is invited to join the riders.
Gies and Hughes said the goal with the new chapter is not only to grow membership but also provide resources and opportunities to veterans and their families.
Hughes, who served in the Michigan Air National Guard for six years when he was in college and later in the U.S. Navy, said he always remembers having the desire to be in the military.
“I always kind of had that (a passion to serve),” he said. “To me, I’ve always just wanted to pay it back to not only the country but (also) people, in general.”
Gies said he also always wanted to serve and was part of the American Legion Boys State when he was younger. He served in the military for 25 years in high-level positions.
“With freedom comes responsibility,” Gies said. “If there’s nobody willing to fight for freedom … if the next generation isn’t willing to step up and serve, then we’ll be gone. Freedom is not only the ability to defend your country and what it stands for but also to go along with your daily life and not have to worry about it, because you know other people are defending it for you.”