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Father of fallen Fort Drum soldier driving motorcycle around the country to raise money for support groups

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FORT DRUM — The father of a fallen officer from Fort Drum is traveling thousands of miles by motorcycle to the four corners of America to honor his son and raise money for four military-support charities.

Beginning in Seattle at the start of August, Donald R. Blanchard and his friend Bruce A. Stanley have slowly progressed east, stopping on post late Sunday. The estimated 12,000-mile trip, which will touch Bangor, Maine; Miami and San Diego and end in Mr. Blanchard’s hometown near Yakima, Wash., will support the USO, Fisher House, the Patriot Guard Riders and the Wounded Warrior Project.

“If I can touch a million people, and if they donate one dollar to these groups, that would be a pretty awesome thing,” Mr. Blanchard said.

Mr. Blanchard is the father of Capt. Aaron R. Blanchard, an Apache helicopter pilot who was one of two soldiers killed April 23 in a missile attack in Pul-e ’Alam, Afghanistan. Capt. Blanchard and 1st Lt. Robert J. Hess, also killed in the attack, served in the 2nd Aviation Battalion, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division. Prior to being commissioned in the Army, Capt. Blanchard served in the Marine Corps, where his time on the ground during two tours in Iraq sparked an interest in becoming an aviator.

“He was always intrigued that when they were having ... firefights ... these helicopters would come in and save the day,” Mr. Blanchard said. “He said it just uplifted him.”

Mr. Blanchard said he had thought of doing the lengthy motorcycle ride for years, and remembered his son encouraging him to do it in March, shortly before the start of his deployment. Capt. Blanchard’s advice to his father: “You need to do it before you get too old.”

Mr. Blanchard said the organizations he will raise money for directly supported his family in the aftermath of his son’s death.

“He would be beside himself,” he said when asked how his son would react to the trip. “He was all about giving too. He’d say, ‘Way to go, Dad.’”

Mr. Blanchard and Mr. Stanley spoke about their ride to media at the post’s USO building on Monday morning. The pair have known each other since 1999, when they met through work, and have ridden together for years. Mr. Stanley said the news of Capt. Blanchard’s death touched him deeply.

“There was no way he was going alone,” Mr. Stanley said.

Though the men are paying for their fuel and some other expenses, they have been supported with meals and lodging from groups like the USO, and have received offers of lodging from supporters of their trip, some having read about their story online.

“It’s so humbling,” Mr. Blanchard said. “We were going to do this on our own, but now everybody’s stepping up and helping us, and it’s a pretty amazing thing.”

Mr. Blanchard said he felt at ease while cruising on his motorcycle, a 2003 Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide.

“When I’m on my bike, all my stress goes away,” Mr. Blanchard said. “It’s just the wind in my face.”

He said that although he has never named a bike before, he soon would have it engraved with the name “Rudy,” his son’s call sign.

Mr. Stanley is completing a trip on a special-edition 2008 Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle, nicknamed “Rootie Tootie: The Golden Eagle.”

The motorcycle trip is the second time Mr. Blanchard has traveled to Fort Drum; the first was in May for a remembrance ceremony.

He said he would return early next year when the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade returns from its nine-month deployment.

Mr. Blanchard and Mr. Stanley’s travels are being documented on a Facebook page at http://wdt.me/zLuxYt.


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