BISMARCK, N.D. - A North Dakota volunteer group has become a fixture at the funerals of military members, law enforcement, firefighters and other first responders.
The North Dakota Patriot Guard is affiliated with the national group, which formed in 2005 to protect and shield the family of a fallen U.S. soldier from protesters at his funeral.
Patriot Guard members are often recognized as flag-carrying motorcycle riders leading processions. But Jim Avard, a Mandan resident who serves as ride captain and assistant state captain, said it doesn't matter if their members ride motorcycles or not.
"It's all volunteer," Avard told the Bismarck Tribune. "There are no dues, no meetings. Everybody does this on their own."
Avard said between 900 and 1,200 members volunteer to honor those who serve.
The group follows the motto "Standing By," and when calls come to go to a funeral, send-off or a welcome-home event, Patriot Guards go, Avard said.
"We want to honor that person and honor the family," he told the newspaper. "Our hope is to help in the healing process."
Chaplain David Johnson of the North Dakota National Guard said the support and strength military families receive from the presence of the Patriot Guard unquestionably has had an impact.
"They are humble, and they are proud to be there," Johnson said. "Words can't describe it."
Brig. Gen. David Anderson of the state National Guard said the Patriot Guard is on the scene early, often when weather conditions are bitter cold.
Avard said North Dakota has not had to deal with protests during military funerals as in some areas of the country.
He said members have seen the opposite -- just support and respect.
Each year, the Patriot Guard gathers for a memorial rally to honor those who have fallen in service to their country. This year's event is planned for Jamestown.