Patriot Chopper

In late June of 2007, the Army National Guard sent an internal press release announcing a contest to assist Orange County Choppers in designing a new National Guard chopper that would be used primarily for two purposes; recruiting and safety awareness. The contest ran the month of July with the winner announced in early August.

This announcement caught the eye of Sgt. 1st Class David Schmidt, Visual Information Specialist with the Colorado Army National Guard, who immediately contacted his co-worker and fellow motorcycle enthusiast, Sgt. Greg Kennedy, Telecommunications Specialist with the COARNG, about entering the contest. They decided it would be a great opportunity and decided to approach it as a team effort and wanted to include Chief Warrant Officer David Vasquez, Communications Security Officer with the COARNG, who was deployed to Peru at the time in support of a major medical operation. All three of them are members of a group of riders with military ties dubbed “Steel Soldiers” and together they revitalized the club from hiatus in 2006.

Schmidt and Kennedy started brainstorming and over the course of just a few days had the essence of the motorcycle worked out. They knew Vasquez would return to Colorado in just a few days and he could provide his input to their concept and tweak it with his ideas. Vasquez is a long-time avid motorcyclist and rides a multiple-trophy winning custom Harley Davidson so they knew his feedback would be valuable. Schmidt, a graphic illustrator and journalist, started to work on the illustration to capture the look and together they massaged the required 200-word essay until they were satisfied it was perfect. They even called their submission “ARNG Patriot Chopper” as they thought the bike needed a proper name.

Next they had to submit, along with their concept and sketch, a biography of one Soldier chosen to represent the bike and, if they won, who would appear on the American Chopper episodes. They agreed Chief Vasquez would be the best representative based on an impressive bio and history. Once again limited to 200 words, together they whittled down Vasquez’s 30-plus years of military service until it was just right and they submitted the entire packet in late July.

Kennedy was impressed that the National Guard stepped out with a promotional custom chopper from OCC and even more blown away that they opened up the design of it in the form of a contest for Guard members. “What a dream come true,” Kennedy stated. “I had a blast coming up with ideas and creative ways to integrate the National Guard and its long history into a custom motorcycle. We looked at all of OCC’s previous bikes and really wanted to do something unique and I think we achieved that.”

Word came soon enough that the Colorado submission put forth by Vasquez, Schmidt and Kennedy had won the national contest. Shortly after the announcement, the design team at OCC wanted to use elements from three other submissions and so the prize was shared amongst four states; Colorado, Ohio, Illinois and Georgia. A Soldier from each of those states would go to the OCC shop in New York, meet the Teutuls and appear on the show. Only three made the trip as the Soldier from Illinois was deployed to Iraq.

“I was conducting a staff ride up at the Little Bighorn Battlefield when Chief called me and told me that we had won the competition,” Schmidt said. “I was in total disbelief and shock, but in my heart I knew we had a strong design.”

The “Patriot Chopper” – the first of three bikes commissioned by the Army National Guard – was officially unveiled at National Guard headquarters in Washington, DC on Sept. 27, 2007 and was taped as part of the upcoming television episodes. Vasquez and Schmidt made the trip for the unveiling along with the Colorado Ground Forces Commander, Brig. Gen. Thomas Mills. It was at this ceremony that the design elements from Colorado which caught OCC’s eye had indeed made the transition to the final design – the colors, tank, fenders, air intake and mirrors were clearly inspired by the submission of the threesome from Denver.

“The best part of this whole experience,” Vasquez said, “was being part of something this incredible. The chopper truly turned out awesome. For me, on the down-slope of my career, it was really meaningful to be involved in a project combining two of my passions – the National Guard and custom motorcycles.”

Overall, the experience was a good one for the three Soldiers from Colorado. The process was full of emotional highs and lows, but the final result — a custom, beautiful rolling representative of the long and proud history of the National Guard — made it all worth it.