Combat veterans often struggle with what they saw, what they did and what happened to them.
These experiences cannot be undone, unseen or un-thought.
However, combat veterans often have a unique bond and that’s the core of what makes the Wisconsin chapter of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association a little different than other veterans groups.
Every member has been in combat, owns a motorcycle and has been honorably discharged. It's not a motorcycle club; it's a non-profit association. The group wants to help its members and all combat vets — whether it’s by raising money to build a home for veterans’ families at the Zablocki VA Medical Center, going for motorcycle rides together or just hanging out.
Miguel Velez, of Waukesha and a member of the group, said his wife knew something wasn’t quite right when he returned from the Gulf War and she encourage him to find people to talk to or find a group.
Being a member of the motorcycle association brings him "sanity," he said.
“Once I got in, it was like finding home,” Velez said.
“Being in the military, you receive all of this training to think in a certain way and look at things in a certain way… and when I got out, for the longest time, it was like something was missing," he said.
Steven Jensen of Racine got involved with the the group two years ago and he’s now its state representative. Jensen served as a medic and ambulance driver in the U.S. Army from 1988 to 1993. During his five-year tour, he was in the Gulf War in 1991. He served as a medic at the 93rd Evacuation Hospital, and drove an ambulance in Korea and Hawaii transported wounded soldiers from an aid station to the hospital.
On a personal level, the organized motorcycle rides him a bit of an escape.
“If you are in pain that day, or if you are just having a bad day — it’s just gone when you are riding,” Jensen said. “You know it’s always going to be there, but at least while you are riding you aren’t going to have that issue.”
Eric Wurth of Milwaukee also joined the group because of the camaraderie and brotherhood. A veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Wurth said the combat experiences of members are a little different because of the wars they served in, but their military experience unifies them.
“To be in the Combat Vets, these are all guys that have been in the same places I’ve been and have done the same things I’ve done, so when I talk about something…they know what I’m talking about,” Wurth said. “If one of us needs help, we’re there for each other and we’re all there for each other.”
The group also has a broader focus than helping each other personally. Members host a spaghetti dinner every year to raise money for the Fisher House, a home for veterans’ families to stay at while their loved one is receiving medical care. The home will be constructed on the Zablocki VA Medical Center grounds and is slated to be the largest one in the country because there as an estimated 8,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are being treated at the center in Milwaukee.
“They are coming from 23 different states to be treated at the center right now,” Jensen said.
Dan Buttery, president of the board of directors for the Wisconsin Fisher House and a member of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, raising money will be an ongoing effort.
“We’re building it with private funds,” he said. “But once it’s constructed, as it continues to exist, we’ll need to offset the operational cost.”
The Combat Vets Motorcycle Association will host its Fisher House Benefit Ride on Saturday at the Zablocki VA Medical Center, 5000 W. National Ave., in Milwaukee. Registration begins at 8 a.m., the ride starts at 10 a.m. and they’ll be riding through southeastern Wisconsin until about 5 p.m.
The cost is $40 for a single rider and $50 with a passenger. For more information or to register, contact the House of Harley at (414) 282-2211.