Bikers will ride to help soldiers

Organizers of a motorcycle ride Saturday are revving up to help local National Guard soldiers serving in Afghanistan and the families they left behind.

The escorted ride will start in front of The Body, A Church for Anybody, on Cherry Road, and will head to York Comprehensive High School, where the battalion commander of the 178th Engineer Battalion will address the crowd.

The ride will finish at the National Guard Armory where there will be lunch, door prizes and a Christian concert. U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., also will speak.

Nonriders can sign up for just lunch and the concert.

The event, sponsored by The Body and the American Legion Frank Roach Post 34, is being called Christmas in July because some of the money raised will be used to send care packages to the troops overseas.

"We don't want our soldiers to wait until December to get care packages," said Warrant Officer Stephen Davis, a member of the 178th who was not deployed.

Davis knows firsthand the support soldiers overseas are looking for. He spent time serving in Iraq in 2004.

Davis said about 150 members of the 178th are deployed. Money from the event will benefit the 178th's family readiness group.

The family readiness group provides physical and emotional support for the families of soldiers. Group members do everything from caring for one another's children to paying utility bills and buying groceries during tough times.

The Body pastor Tim Fowler, who left the Navy in 1990, said it's important for soldiers to know their families are being taken care of so they can focus on their jobs.

"If I'm deployed overseas and I'm worried about my family back home, I'm putting myself in danger and the rest of the guys in danger," he said.

Fowler said families who are left behind have just as big a struggle with morale as the soldiers themselves. Spouses often have to cope with the loss of their partner's income as well as the distance from their loved one.

Rose Lemmons-Berry, family assistance center specialist, estimated that about two-thirds of the deployed soldiers left spouses and children at home. That's more than 300 young children.

JoAnne Fowler, owner of the Christian-themed coffee shop Grounds of Faith and Tim Fowler's wife, said when her husband was deployed in the Navy, support from friends and neighbors was crucial.

Fowler said small things that often are taken for granted, such as having someone to mow the grass or fix the toilet, can be difficult when a spouse is gone.

"The greatest joy for us was that it did build us as a really close family," she said. "It made us really appreciate each other."

At least 200 people are expected to ride in Saturday's fundraiser.

Organizers hope to raise $10,000. More than $6,000 already has been donated.