Community gives to help officers ride for the fallen

| 07 Feb 2018 | 03:16

By Joseph Picard
— Police officers are volunteering to bicycle hundreds of miles for their fallen comrades and the community is stepping up to help.
The annual Police Unity Tour, which will kick off on May 9, received a local boost at The Mohawk House in Sparta last Thursday from a fundraiser for Team West Milford, the 11 officers from the West Milford, Jefferson and Sparta departments who will pedal the 200 plus miles from Somerset, NJ to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington DC.
“We are so proud that our Sparta police are joining the Unity Tour,” said Steve Scro, owner of The Mohawk House. “This is a great cause, a great event, and the generosity of our community has been outstanding.”
Scro noted that, among donors at the event, the Sparta VFW presented Team West Milford with a check for $500 and J Thomas Jewelers of Sparta contributed $300.
“And they came close to selling out the Unity Tour sweatshirts and t-shirts,” Scro said.
In addition to making the venue available, The Mohawk House is also giving a portion of the receipts to the cause.
The annual event began in 1997, when Officer Patrick Montuore of the Florham Park Police Department organized a bicycle ride from his New Jersey town to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Judiciary Square in Washington D.C. The purpose of the journey was to raise public awareness of officers who have died in the line of duty and to raise money for the surviving families of the fallen. Seventeen other officers joined Monturoe on that initial four-day ride. They raised $18,000.
In 1998, 37 riders made the trip and raised $50,000. The effort has grown each year since. In 2006, with 978 riders, the fundraising surpassed $1 million. Last year’s Police Unity Tour had 2,500 riders, from departments nationwide. They raised $2.6 million.
All the monies raised go to the memorial fund that serves the needs of the surviving families and to maintenance of the memorial itself. The tour's motto is: We ride for those who died.
This year, Sparta Police Sgt. Rob Fraser becomes the first from the force to join the ride. He said it was something he had wanted to do for years.
“In 1998, I was at the police academy and Pat Montuore was a guest speaker,” Fraser said. “He spoke about what he was doing. I thought back then that I wanted to do that ride. Now, 20 years later, I am finally doing it.”
Fraser said that each rider must raise nearly $2,000 to qualify, as well as money to fit out a bike, equip himself and, for a first timer, to buy a standard riding uniform. The burden to each rider could climb as high as $5000, officers said. Still, Team West Milford, expects to reach its goal of $20,900.
“Businesses and individuals have been very good to us,” said Cpl. Brian Seeley, a rider from the Jefferson Township Police Department. This year will mark his third Unity Tour ride.
“When once I did it, and when I first rode into that memorial with fellow officers, and with the families cheering, it was such a feeling, such an unbelievable feeling,” Seeley said. “I’m going to be making this ride for the rest of my career.”
"This is all about honoring the fallen officers," said Officer Nick Snook of the West Milford Police Department, also getting ready for his third ride. "There's the hurt and soreness of the ride, and you rise above that when you think of the fallen officers and you see the families at the memorial."
The ride begins on May 9 in Somerset, NJ. Police officers from departments as far off as California travel to the East Coast and join the ride along the way. Indeed, groups of cyclists converge en route. Team West Milford, as well as other teams, start in Somerset, bike through the western part of New Jersey that day and reach Philadelphia on the first night. The next day’s journey will take the cyclists through Delaware and into Maryland, making Baltimore on the second night. The last leg is to just outside D.C. and then the full troop of cyclists enter the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial on Saturday, May 12. On the following day, there is a candlelight vigil and new names of the fallen are added to the memorial.
"When you have entered the memorial, and participate in the vigil and the remembrance, the feeling is overwhelming," West Milford Ptl. Matt Kloo said. Kloo will be riding for the fourth time.
In addition to Fraser, Seeley, Snook and Kloo, Officers Dan Florio and Mike Ondish from the Jefferson Police Department, and Officers Rob Kulawiak, Anthony Frassa, James Fulton, Gary Yarnell and Shannon Sommerville of the West Milford Police Department are making the ride.
"Every day police officers are putting their lives on the line for us," said Pete Litchfield, post commander of the Sparta VFW. "Making a donation for this cause is something we can do for them. And the money goes to the families of the fallen officers."
"I'm very proud of these officers, and happy to see that our police department is joining in the ride," said Sparta Mayor Josh Hertzberg. "I'm proud and supportive of the direction our new chief is taking the department, and I can't say enough about Steve Scro and how generous he has been to the township and the community."
Donations can be made to Team West Milford and the Police Unity Tour by visiting this website: <URL destination=" ">