New Legion Riders chairman: Being a Rider comes with an obligation

Legionnaire Mark Clark has been a part of seven American Legion Legacy Runs and has served on the National American Legion Riders Advisory Committee. But his Legion Rider responsibilities, and their scope, have grown since moving to chairman of the advisory committee, including taking over as chief road captain for the Legacy Run.

A 15-year member of Tirey J. Ford Post 21 in Independence, Mo., Clark served as the Department of Missouri’s American Legion Riders director from 2012 to 2014. He’s also held various post, district and department leadership positions, and has served as the chaplain on the previous two Legacy Runs.

Clark stopped by National Headquarters in Indianapolis recently to talk about his new role as committee chairman and chief road captain, the importance of the Legacy Run and why the American Legion Riders are a critical part of the Legion Family.

The American Legion: How long have you been a member of the American Legion Riders, and what was it about the Riders that drew you into joining?

Mark Clark: I joined the American Legion Riders in 2010. I knew of the American Legion Riders but had never been a part of a chapter. Once I got into my post and realized there was a chapter there, I saw the work they were doing in the community.

Q: What was some of the work the chapter was doing in the community?

A: Other than being a part of the Patriot Guard, they also did a lot of fundraising for local charities: things like the community project where they build the tiny homes for homeless veterans, the outreach to the Kansas City VA Medical Center, the work they’ve done with Camp Valor Outdoors – they were involved in so many things that made a difference in lives of veterans and their families. I wanted to be a part of that.

Q: What do you feel is the mission of the American Legion Riders within The American Legion and the Legion Family?

A: I think the mission of the American Legion Riders is two-fold. The first is to uphold the principles that make The American Legion great. Secondly is to represent The American Legion in our community and expand the footprint into areas across the country that otherwise would not see a Legionnaire. I think that has driven recruiting. I also think it’s given us an opportunity to represent The American Legion in activities that we otherwise would not have been invited to.

Q: What will your focus be as National American Legion Riders Advisory Committee chairman?

A: My focus is really going to be on training and awareness. One of the challenges we have is as Riders is we join The American Legion because we love to ride motorcycles. But there’s not a formalized training program or it isn’t necessarily a focus to help the American Legion Riders learn how the different organizations within the American Legion (Family) work. Likewise, on the side of the Legion, the Auxiliary and the Sons (of The American Legion), there also isn’t a focus to perhaps help them understand how the American Legion Riders work and how we can benefit the different organizations. I want to bring awareness to the American Legion Riders and the great things we’re doing, but I also want to bridge the gap between misunderstandings that often leave an American Legion Riders chapter feeling … like they’re outside their own post community.

We need to be involved in our parent organizations. We have to remember that I can’t be a Rider if I’m not a Legionnaire, I’m not an SAL member or I’m not a member of the Auxiliary. Those parent organizations have to come first in this organization. We have to learn how they work, understand how they function, so that if we want to affect positive change, we understand how that process works in our parent organization. I’m afraid that until we bridge that gap … we’re never going to build that consensus within a post or within a department that is going to be able to maximize the capabilities that the American Legion Riders bring to the fight.

Q: Explain your role as chief road captain on the Legacy Run.

A: My responsibility’s going to be to communicate clearly with everyone that’s on the ride so that everyone understands what our expectations are. It’s to make sure that we have a safe ride, that we get everyone from the start to the finish without any incident, and to make sure we represent The American Legion the best we can and the American Legion Family the best we can in every town and community that we ride through.

Q: What’s in like for you to assume the role of chief road captain?

A: It’s really a humbling thing … understanding that we have Legionnaires and Legion Family members that are going to travel from all over the country – some from outside of the country – to participate in that ride. And they’re counting on me and the team that we’ve assembled to make sure we get that ride done safely and properly. Nobody wants to be part of a clown circus.

Q: With the coronavirus possibly impacting chapter and department Legacy Runs leading up to the national Legacy Run, do you have any advice or guidance for those Legion Riders whose events may be impacted by the current pandemic?

A: The coronavirus is something that we can’t ignore. It is a real threat to our public safety, especially some of our older Riders. So my advice to the states that are planning rides (for April or May) is to pay close attention to your state health officials, monitor what the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is recommending, and let’s make sure we put the safety of our Riders and our American Legion Family first. It’s one thing to plan a ride and to execute it, but it’s another to understand that the environment you’re going to be doing that in is going to be severely limited. Much of the services we would require on the ride are going to be limited because businesses are going to be closed. Much of the restaurants we would count on eating at when we stop at our stops are not going to be available. I would say monitor your local officials, follow the guidelines being presented to you, and let’s make sure we keep our Riders safe.

Q: Is there anything else you want to add?

A. I would just like to speak directly to the Riders out there. What you’re doing is incredibly important for the future of The American Legion. Remember that on the back of your vest is a patch that ties us to an organization that has been the centerpiece of American society for over 100 years. What that patch means on the back of our vests is that we have the privilege to serve one of the greatest organizations that’s ever been put together in this country. The American Legion is known as the largest veterans organization, but the reality is it’s the people in it that make the organization successful. The commitment that they have. The patch on our back represents to the community that we’re part of this fantastic American Legion Family, and we have an obligation to do things right while we’re wearing it.

I wear my vest everywhere I go, like most Riders do. Even if I’m running up to the store to get a loaf of bread, I put my vest on if I’m on the bike. And people will stop and talk to me about it and ask me about The American Legion. So for the Riders out there that get up every day and put that vest on with the pride knowing they represent The American Legion – I just want to say ‘thank you’ because it really does matter that you’re representing the American Legion Family.