JOPLIN, Mo. —
The freedom of the open road is a major appeal for Stephen Kimmel. There's no better way for him to feel that freedom than to experience it aboard his 2006 Victory Vegas motorcycle.
It also helps him unwind and cope with the changes of civilian life. Over 11 years, Kimmel served tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq with the U.S. Army and Missouri National Guard.
"It's a way to escape and have some personal time," Kimmel said. "It's very relaxing for me to get on my bike and just ride wherever. It doesn't matter where I go. It's just a good hobby that we all share interest in."
Easing the transition
Not every veteran returns home to open arms. Veterans often face a slew of difficulties. Whether it's readjusting to civilian life, overcoming financial troubles or just finding someone to talk to about their experiences, there can be plenty of problems for veterans returning home from service.
No one is more aware of the problems facing veterans than their fellow servicemen. Knowing this, the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association aims to recognize the valiant efforts of its brothers in arms.
"We try to do a lot in the area," said Kimmel, public relations officer for the organization's Joplin chapter. "We go up to the Mount Vernon veterans home at least a couple times a year and say, 'We're here.' A lot of those guys, they go up there and people forget they're there. We go up there, a smile on our face, and we hang out and be a friend and let them know that they're not forgotten."
The association seeks to ease the troubles of veterans by offering assistance, aid, company and camaraderie. It's reflected in its motto: "Vets helping vets."
Working alongside chapters from Springfield and Fayetteville, Ark., members donate time and effort to a number of causes, including Wreaths Across America, which aims to decorate veterans' graves with ornate wreaths.
"Any organization can do it," Kimmel said. "You pick a cemetery, and you sponsor that cemetery. We sponsored the Park Cemetery in Carthage."
The Joplin CVMA goes above and beyond the call in its efforts Ñ its philanthropy includes more than just community service.
"We're trying to find veterans that are having a hard time for the holidays," Kimmel said. "We can try to see what we can do to help them out. We do anything we can. If we can, we'll pay a bill off for you to help you out. We'll bring you a basket of food, buy some presents for your kids. If you need dry wall repaired in your house, we'll get in there and get that done."