'I feel like this is what we are here for'

As its communications officer, Desiree Guerra has seen firsthand the impact American Legion Riders Chapter 38 in Fountain, Colo., has made in its community.

“Any veteran knows that if they just ask, we’ll get something done,” Guerra said. “It may not be exactly what they want, but it’s something.”

Those somethings now include helping a couple get married. Earlier this month, Guerra and Chapter 38 helped facilitate and fund the wedding between a homeless Navy veteran and his girlfriend. Todd and Shelly Wibeto became husband and wife on Oct. 22 at Post 38, fulfilling a wish the pair had for awhile.

Post 38 annually participates in the El Paso County Homeless Veterans Standdown, where they met the couple. Guerra ran into Shelly the next night at a post dinner.

“I had honestly thought they were married,” Guerra said of the couple. “Todd was not there, Shelly was there, and I just asked her ‘Where’s your husband?’ She told me that they were not married … and went into the whole story about how they met, and that they had been trying to get married, but they just kept hitting hard times. Every time they had the money to do it, something came up.”

Guerra said that at first she was joking when she suggested that since ALR Chapter President Dean Noechel was an ordained minister, ALR Chapter 38 should help the couple get married. “But everything was like ‘That’s a great idea. Let’s do it,’” Guerra said. “So it just kind of started from there. That was on a Wednesday night. By Sunday we had it all together.”

Noechel, who also serves as Department of Colorado junior vice commander, said the chapter quickly reached into its own pockets to help Todd and Shelly.

“Friday night we passed the hat at our steak dinner, and then Saturday night we had our ALR end-of-the-year party,” Noechel said. “The winner from the 50-50 drawing we had donated their money back to the wedding as well.”

In just two days the post had raised more than $300. Working with a member of VFW Post 101, Guerra bought decorations for the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center in Colorado Springs, where the wedding would take place. Helzberg Diamonds provided a discounted ring, while Safeway donated the cake and cupcakes, and David’s Bridal provided a discounted wedding dress. “It happened so quickly,” Guerra said.

The couple was married by ALR 38 Chaplain Pat Bedford, and a reception followed the ceremony. Watching Todd and Shelly exchange rings and then have their first dance made Guerra cry.

“It just touched my heart,” she said. “I always said the best thing you can do for somebody is give to them when you know they can never repay you. That’s one of the most rewarding things in life. It was so rewarding to see how happy they were and how grateful they were. They just appreciated everything that happened.”

Noechel said turning a wedding around in four days is a testament to the relationship the Riders have with those around them. “For me, it’s exciting to see the community and The American Legion Riders from Post 38 come together with very short notice and put this spectacular day together,” he said. “It’s amazing. It’s amazing what we can do as an ALR family.”

What the Riders do is what brought Guerra, who also serves as Post 38’s junior vice commander and District 7’s finance officer, into the Legion.

“The work that the Riders and the post do with the homeless community is one of the things that truly drew me to join … and really inspired me to want to do more for my community,” said Guerra, a Persian Gulf Army veteran. “I was homeless at one point in my life. I know how lonely that can be and how hard it is.

“Just to be able to give back and let someone know ‘Hey, we care. We’re here,’ … It felt like this is what we are here for. This is what we do. We are here to help people. We truly joined their lives together. That doesn’t happen every day. I couldn’t think of two people that deserved it more.”