Soldiers helping soldiers

TUPELO – John Watson had never ridden his motorcycle for more than 100 miles at a time, but on Saturday he broke it in on the open road.
Watson, of Algoma, joined about 300 other riders in the fourth annual Dixie Thunder Run leaving from the BancorpSouth Arena.
The Thunder Run is a charity set up to help the families of soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Thunder Run president Sgt. 1st Class Tony Shackleford said the run has been a success every year.
Before the run began, Shackleford handed a check for $10,000 to Maj. Gen. William L. Freeman, Jr., the adjutant general of Mississippi, on behalf of last year’s Thunder Run.
Watson said he has always been afraid to take his bike on the road since purchasing it about six months ago, but then he learned about the Thunder Run. The run goes from Tupelo to Chunky River Harley Davidson in Meridian on the northern side of the run. And from Biloxi to Chunky River on the southern route. More than 1,000 riders were expected to participate Saturday.

Putting fears aside
“My buddy’s son is in Iraq and he was telling me about riding with the group this year,” Watson said. “Of course I was scared at first because I bought the bike to ride in the area. But when I started thinking about how afraid his son must be all the way over there in Iraq putting his life on the line for us, I put my fears to the side and decided to ride for him and all of our soldiers.”
Dixie Thunder Run T-shirts and other merchandise were sold to help raise money for the soldiers. The yearly motto of the run is “Soldiers Helping Soldiers.”
Shackleford said it’s a testimony to the ride’s beginnings when a few soldiers of the 155th Brigade Combat Team of Mississippi, while still deployed in Iraq, put together the logistics for the first-ever Dixie Thunder Run in 2006. As it spread by word of mouth, soldiers and supporters have joined over the past three years to make the Dixie Thunder Run one of the largest contributors to The Mississippi Family Relief Fund.
Although she didn’t participate in the ride, Melissa Carver helped to send the riders off with cheers. She was one of dozens of people parked along side the road to see the riders off. Escorted by the Mississippi Highway Patrol motorcycle unit, the riders left town like celebrities.
“I don’t have anyone from my family in the military, but I consider all these guys my boys,” said Carver. “I’m happy to support them and happy to see so many others doing the same.”

Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or danza.johnson@djournal.com.

Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal