SPARTA, NJ – This year Sparta Police Sgt. Rob Fraser will be representing his department and town in the annual Police Unity Ride to Washington D.C. to honor fallen police officers.
“After 19 years [with the Sparta Police Department], with the support of my wife and children, I’m finally able to do it,” Fraser said.
Fraser will be part of an 11-man team of area police officers. He will join Brian Seeley, Dan Florio and Mike Ondish from the Jefferson Police Department and Rob Kulawiak, Anthony Frassa, Nick Snook, Matt Kloo, James Fulton, Gary Yarnell and Shannon Sommerville of the West Milford Police Department.
Team West Milford will ride as part of Chapter 7 from California. To qualify to participate the team must raise $20,900. They are holding fundraising events and selling t-shirt and sweatshirts to reach the goal. After an event at Gatwynns in Jefferson last week the team had gotten nearly halfway to their goal.
The Mohawk House, in support of the team of 11 riders, donated a portion of the profits on Thursday night. Team members, supporters, friends and fellow officers were at the restaurant with restaurant owner Steve Scro.
The Sparta VFW Commander Pete Litchfield and Assistant Commander John Finkeldie presented a check to the Team West Milford. They also presented a plaque to Scro for his philanthropy.
“Steve helps us immensely,” Litchfield said. “He has supported us since the beginning.” In return they wanted to “support the fundraiser for the ride wholeheartedly.”
The two explained Scro helped raise money for the VFW reconstruction. The new facility is now used by many Sparta organizations. Sparta Youth Football and Cheer, Sparta Lacrosse, Sparta Womens Club, the FOP, the Blue Knights, Trout Unlimited, Sparta Softball, and “so many birthday parties all use the new hall. It’s amazing,” Litchfield said.
Team coordinator Seeley said on Thursday, May 10 riders will depart for their first stop in Philadelphia, where they have taken part in a memorial service in past years, conducted by a former officer. On Friday they will ride more than 100 miles to Baltimore, Maryland.
On Saturday the Team West Milford officers will join riders from all over the country, staging in the RFK stadium in Washington D.C. “All chapters then ride to the memorial together,” Seeley said.
For Seeley this will be the third ride. Each year prior to the main event, officers are assigned a fallen officer whom they will represent. They get a metal bracelet engraved with the name of the fallen officer, the end of watch date and the department in which the officer served.
The teams strive to reach out to the family of the officer for whom they ride. The teams will also meet up with the families on the last leg of the ride as they arrive at the memorial in Washington, D.C. There is a candlelight vigil scheduled for May 13 on the National Mall.
The ride has gone off each year since 1997. It began in Florham Park, New Jersey raising $18,000. Last year, the 20th anniversary of the ride, nearly 2500 riders from all over the country took part, donating $2.6 million to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, according to the organization.
In the 20 years since it’s inception the ride has raised $23 million for the fund. In 2005 the tour pledged $5 million to support the National Law Enforcement Museum. The organization said they fulfilled that promise in 2009. The following year the tour raised $1.1 million to restore the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial wall according to the organization’s publications.
Two members of Team West Milford, Kulawiak and Frassa provide support driving the trailer along the route and setting up for breaks along the way.
“We couldn’t do it without them,” Seeley said. They break every 30-35 miles, according to Seeley, to rest and refuel.
They riders arrive to a crowd of about 10 thousand people at the memorial, according to Seeley.
“We ride for those who died,” is the motto of the tour.
“I’m pretty excited to do it. It’s for a worthy cause,” Fraser said. “Steve and Rachel [Scro] have been generous.”
“Businesses have been good to us,” Seeley said.
According to Seeley and Fraser they anticipate an additional event in upcoming weeks, possibly at the Grasshopper restaurant. Donations are welcome at any time.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial is on E Street between 4th and 5th streets. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial visitors center in located at 400 7th Street on the corner of 7th and D Street in Washington D.C.
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