Bikers, fighters lend a helping hand

By Gus Bode

Southern Illinois citizens gathered at Buffalo Wild Wings Saturday afternoon to give back to those fighting overseas.

The fundraising event, which paired bikers and fighters with politicians and retailers, raised money for the Illinois National Guard Family Relief Fund. The fund, which was approved by Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2003, provides assistance to families while their loved ones are overseas.

“People all over the southern Illinois community have been overly supportive and we couldn’t be more appreciative,” said event coordinator William Bauman. A total of money raised was not available by press time Sunday.

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Bauman said the event touched him personally. He said his brother Gary, a graduate of Herrin High School and West Point Military Academy, was killed when his helicopter was shot down over a demilitarized zone during the Korean War.

The event included speeches by National Guard recruiter Sgt. Jessica Fitzgerald, Carbondale Mayor Brad Cole, state Sen. Gary Forby, and state Rep. Mike Bost.

Fitzgerald, a veteran of the Iraq War and graduate of Herrin High School, said she is grateful for all the support provided by the event coordinators and sponsors.

“I think the Illinois Military Family Relief Fund is vital in times like this when thousands of our soldiers from Illinois are being deployed oversees to Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Fitzgerald. “People might not support the war or the president, but [the event] shows me that they support us.”

Cole, who attended the event with his mother Sue, said the event was important to him because both his father and uncle served in the Navy.

“It’s a chance for folks like these Hawgs and Dawgs riders to come from all over southern Illinois to raise a few dollars for families of military personnel,” said Cole. “There’s a lot going on and we’re proud to participate in it.”

Kage One Productions owner Tim Fickes, organizer and co-sponsor of the fundraiser, said he works closely with the National Guard at his events. Three of the cage fighters who are set to face off Saturday are members of the National Guard, he said.

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“Mixed martial arts is now the combat martial art used by the U.S. military so although the stuff developed in the sport through combat athletes fighting and training, it has now helped our soldiers on foreign soil,” said Fickes.

Derek Brandon, 25, of Marion, will be fighting in next week’s event. He said he came to the event to support the National Guard and promote his sport, which is often misrepresented.

“It’s an entertaining sport. It’s not barbaric like a lot of people think. There are a lot of things that go back to the community,” Brandon said.

More than 100 bikers put their kickstands to use when the fifth annual Hawgs and Dawgs bike run stopped to show support along their run from Marion to McAndrew Stadium. The ride, organized by Black Diamond Harley-Davidson in Marion had escorts from the Illinois State Police and the National Guard.

“Beautiful day. Nice ride. Nice people … It’s all for a good cause,” said Cindy Whitley of Du Quoin, who rode out with family and friends to cheer on the Salukis.

Whitley said her husband Jim has been riding motorcycles most of his life and the couple like to ride with the Black Diamond crowd.

Sgt. James Moore said he would soon have to depart from his wife and two kids. Moore and his unit will deploy for Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in three weeks, where they will train before leaving for Afghanistan in December. The mission will keep the soldiers away from their families for almost a year, Moore said.

“It’s hard for our families when we’re gone. Just to have a support group and someone who’s around to help them helps us and takes a lot of stress off of us while we’re over there,” Moore said.

Donations can be made to the Illinois National Guard Family Relief Fund by selecting an option on individual income tax forms.

Justin Lange can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 258 or [email protected]

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