At first glance, members of the Warriors Watch Riders may seem like just another group of tough guys with leather jackets and bandanas on motorcycles.
But these motorcycle enthusiasts are dedicated to a greater cause: making a conscious effort to live with gratitude toward war veterans and those defending our country.
Armed Forces support group Warriors Watch Riders (WWR) began in 2007, with a mission to take care of United States war veterans and their families. Fred "Spike" Schau is one of the group's founders and its Northern California state coordinator, as well as an active duty member in the Navy.
"We are a volunteer service organization with 800 members who ride motorcycles and reach out to veterans and their families with honor, commitment and courage because that is what our troops are about," Schau said.
Although many don their motorcycle leathers, every member isn't required to ride a motorcycle. Many members volunteer by contacting the veterans' families while others participate by showing their love and gratitude toward the veterans solely with their presence.
While 90% of the group members are veterans, the remaining 10% are patriots who, according to Schau, have "just as much heart as a veteran."
Lynn "Raider" Tross has been an active volunteer with the Warriors Watch Riders since 2007 and is not a veteran.
"I am very passionate about supporting our troops. It is important to the Watch Riders to show veterans that America cares," Tross said.
Among the most joyous occasions for Warriors Watch Riders are "Operation Welcome Home" and "Send-Off-To-War" events. On June 22, 22 enthusiastic Riders surprised Pleasanton resident and Army Chief Warrant Officer Peter Bui at Gay 90's Pizza for an unexpected welcome home celebration.
"Bui was speechless. The look on his face was complete shock and he was blown away," Schau said, adding that WWR members at first pretended they had no idea who Bui was. "Then the crew said, 'Surprise! Welcome Home! We are from the Warriors Watch Riders group, we appreciate your service and would love to escort you back home after your meal."
The Warriors Watch Riders partner with the Diablo Valley Flag Brigade, Pleasanton Military Families, Blue Star Moms and the American Legion to ensure a full-hearted, warm experience for veterans and their families. While Bui was enjoying his surprise at the restaurant, WWR members and their fellow service organizations were at Bui's home with his family, decorating the house with signs and preparing cookies.
The Riders are not only there for the troops during positive celebrations but are also present during somber events such as funerals. WWR will also escort the body of a fallen service member home from the airport.
Army Spc. Matthew Pfeiffer, 23, died June 7 of a brain aneurism while at home, leaving behind his 13-month-old baby and his pregnant wife. Schau said that while the Pfeiffers are in shock and disbelief, they found comfort by contacting the Warriors Watch Riders to attend June 21 funeral services and to provide much-needed support.
The service began in Carmel, as police, fire department, a hearse and 20 Riders escorted Pfeiffer's body and his family to the burial site in Monterey.
"Saying goodbye is hard these days. As long as we can say goodbye the right way, it makes the healing process go by faster," Schau said.
World War II veteran Anastacio Gallardo died on June 12 and his daughter, Tina Gallardo Webster, was appreciative of the Warriors Watch Riders' support. The WWR escorted Gallardo and his family to Callaghan Mortuary in Livermore.
"I can't tell u how much u (sic) all touched my heart," Webster wrote to the Watch Riders. "I will from this day forward to always keep you in my prayers and keep u (sic) safe....The Warriors Watch Riders will always be a big part of my life now."
Vietnam vet and Watch Rider "Friar Tuck" has attended 200-300 Operation Welcome Home and funeral services. Tuck said his presence at the events is healing for all parties.
"By helping these veterans, we are also helping ourselves. It helps heal a little bit of what we went through," he said.
In December 2012, the town of Danville honored founder Fred "Spike" Schau and the Warriors Watch Riders during its community service awards. Vice Mayor Robert Storer said he was touched by Shau's acceptance speech.
"I will never forget what Spike said that day. He told us, 'I will be supporting the troops as long as I'm able to walk. I will be there to welcome each one of them to American soil.' I found that statement to be so powerful," Storer said.
If you see the Warriors Watch Riders gathering at their regular pre-ride hangout at the Shell gas station on Bernal Avenue in Pleasanton, don't be worried about a motorcycle gang. Instead, Schau encourages passers-by to honk their horns in support of patriotism.