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Big hearts hit Route 66

The largest offshore Australian Police Legacy fundraiser embarked across the US heartland last month raising a staggering $70,000 for families behind the badge.

By Julie Hope

It began in Soldier Field, Chicago, to the moving sounds of pipes and drums at a solemn wreath-laying memorial service to remember the fallen, and ended on the iconic timbers of Santa Monica Pier to popping champagne corks and shouts of jubilation.

Signs of the iconic US road trip
Signs of the iconic US road trip

It was the largest, offshore Australian Police Legacy fundraising event ever undertaken when a group of current serving and former Australian police officers embarked on Harley Davidson motorbikes on the historic Route 66 across America’s mid-west.

The epic ride took 12 days to travel the almost 4000kms, across eight states and three zones; but it was so much more than a handful of statistics.

Chicago Police Chief, Superintendent Eddie Johnston, lays a wreath at Chicago’s Soldier Field with AFP Senior Liaison Officer to New York, Ian Bate
Above:Chicago Police Chief, Superintendent Eddie Johnston, lays a wreath at Chicago’s Soldier Field with AFP Senior Liaison Officer to New York, Ian Bate
Below: Aerial view of Route 66 participants with the Chicago Police Department Bagpipes & Drums of the Emerald Society at Soldier Field
Aerial view of Route 66 participants with the Chicago Police Department Bagpipes & Drums of the Emerald Society at Soldier Field

As a logistical exercise, the idea was to adapt a long-standing Irish Police charity ride along the famous highway across the United States for a group of Aussies. It was always going to be a big challenge and mapping out the complex details to make the ambitious trip a reality was a labour of love for the organisers.

It took Australian Federal Police (AFP) officer Sgt Louise McGregor and her fiancé Ken Brennan, a 32-year veteran of Ireland’s An Garda Siochana, two years to plan every detail for the 40 participants, 19 bikes and four support vehicles to make the trip a success.

“This event was one of the hardest challenges I have ever undertaken, both physically and emotionally.  It has been two years in the making, from the creation of the event foundations, through the logistical planning and down to the daily tasks and challenges presented,” Louise said.

“Like many situations in policing, and just like the situation many of our families face, there was no consideration of going back or stopping because it was too hard. That was not an option. So we did what police do best, you knuckle down and you continue forward one step at a time and you overcome each obstacle in the best way you possibly can.”

A labour of love - Road Captain Ken Brennan and fiancé AFP Sergeant Louise McGregor – organisers of the inaugural Route 66 fundraising ride for AFP. Despite the challenges there was no consideration of going back or stopping because it was too hard
A labour of love - Road Captain Ken Brennan and fiancé AFP Sergeant Louise McGregor – organisers of the inaugural Route 66 fundraising ride for AFP Legacy. Despite the challenges there was no consideration of going back or stopping because it was too hard

When you break it down, the epic journey from Illinois to California was about people first and the support and love that comes from bringing people together for a common purpose.

Police officers and those who work in support of the ‘thin blue line’ are a special and unique cohort. On the ‘Ride for Police Legacy’ across Route 66, old friendships were renewed, new one’s formed and many shared and lasting memories made during the ultimate ‘bucket list’ trip.

Road Captain Tony Toner and AFP Legatee Kefi Faupula with Red Team members outside the magnificent natural wonder of the El Morro National Monument in New Mexico
Road Captain Tony Toner and AFP Legatee Kefi Faupula with Red Team members outside the magnificent natural wonder of the El Morro National Monument in New Mexico

From the outset, it was clear the journey was so much more than the sum of its many parts and spectacular geographical highlights. By its end, it had more than fulfilled its twofold purpose to raise valuable funds for all Australian police legacies and awareness of Police Legacy’s objectives.

The trip had brought strangers together of all ages and experiences with a shared purpose from across the world. Upon their return to Australia, people soon realised the unique and special bonds and comradery formed in the name of the fallen.

A band of brothers and sisters supporting those behind the badge in front the spectacular Chicago skyline
A band of brothers and sisters supporting those behind the badge in front the spectacular Chicago skyline

AFP Legacy President Det. Supt. Shane McLennan described the trip as ‘an awesome event, a breathtaking adventure and an absolute privilege to be involved’.

AFP Legacy President Detective Superintendent Shane McLennan addresses the memorial service at Soldier Field, Chicago
AFP Legacy President Detective Superintendent Shane McLennan addresses the memorial service at Soldier Field, Chicago

“It was an overwhelming success on many levels - our two legatees loved it - and we stand to have raised approximately $80,000 for police legacies, the bulk of which is being donated to AFP Legacy,” he said.

“This fundraising event was a long time in the making and to have actually finished it is a bit surreal at first, but then you realise what has been achieved.

“We’ve raised the awareness of Police Legacy in significant proportions and we’ve raised significant funds for police legacies in Australia in the process.”

Route 66ers at the halfway mark in Adrian, Texas, gather alongside the iconic ‘midpoint’ sign before heading into the café for a traditional breakfast of apple and pecan pie
Route 66ers at the halfway mark in Adrian, Texas, gather alongside the iconic ‘midpoint’ sign before heading into the café for a traditional breakfast of apple and pecan pie

Most poignantly, it was the inclusion of two 21-year-old legatees on the trip, Brittney Johnsen and Kefilina (Kefi) Faupula, daughters of former AFP officers Mark and Jonny, which had the most impact.

Their presence quickly formed in all participants’ hearts and minds the underlying reason why they were there - to perpetuate the memory of those who have been killed on duty, or who have died in service, and to support those left behind.

It started when the two young women laid a wreath in remembrance of fallen officers in the Gold Star Families Memorial Park in Chicago; it blossomed when they first pulled on motorbike leathers and jumped on the back of Harley’s piloted by Road Captains Tony Toner and Ken Brennan; it continued when they embraced like sisters on the south rim of the Grand Canyon and solidified when they laughed and cried on the planks of Santa Monica Pier.

Behind the badge: Legatees Brittney Johnsen and Kefi Faupula embrace on the south rim of the Grand Canyon on the stop in Flagstaff, Arizona
Behind the badge: Legatees Brittney Johnsen and Kefi Faupula embrace on the south rim of the Grand Canyon on the stop in Flagstaff, Arizona

It was clear to all, these young women, who are such a credit to their families for their amazing resilience, had grown together in friendship and confidence as the trip progressed and finished on the west coast. It was an honour for everyone on the tour to serve them and their families.

Shane thanked all the participants, both riders and support crew for their efforts, both in travelling the entire journey and for their fundraising efforts.

“As we look like exceeding our target of $60,000 by more than $20,000, it was not always an easy task, riding eight to 12 hours a day, but everyone worked hard and exceeded expectations, so I thank them for their support on the road and off,” he said.

“What we experienced and witnessed on this tour of the historic Route 66 was an absolute mind-blowing array of history and hospitality that you can’t imagine, unless you were here of course. I, like everyone involved, feel privileged to have been part of it.”

Some of Route 66 took riders on parts of Highway 45 in the US heartland
Some of Route 66 took riders on parts of Highway 45 in the US heartland

Louise said the success of the trip was due to the group effort, both by the support crew and the participants, each making the trip truly memorable.

“We had an amazing support crew who were there every day, loading and unloading luggage, getting motorbikes into repair shops, navigating, back-tracking when things got left behind and being available at every motorcycle stop to ensure the riders and their pillions were supported,” she said.

“I also wish to say thank you to the riders and their faith in committing to this event and for every day since. It would not have been what it was without all of you. I am going to look forward to reminiscing and sharing all those memories in the coming weeks and years.”

Job done! The inaugural Route 66 group celebrate the ‘end of trail’ on the iconic timbers of Santa Monica Pier
Job done! The inaugural Route 66 group celebrate the ‘end of trail’ on the iconic timbers of Santa Monica Pier

Police legacies are committed to providing emotional and financial support for the families of deceased police officers and police staff.

The Police Legacy schemes represented on the inaugural Route 66 trip currently support police families of more than 200 dependent children of school or study age.

When AFP Legacy was constituted in early 2012 there was a membership base of 0.7 per cent of the AFP; now 24 per cent of AFP employees are financial contributors to AFP Legacy through the workplace giving program.

“A fundraiser like Route 66 was the biggest thing we’ve ever done and once we review the achievements and understand the lessons learned, I’m confident we will start planning for 2019,” Shane said.

“My message to everyone is this – consistent, fortnightly workplace giving means Police Legacy can financially and emotionally support families like the Johnsen’s and Faupula’s.

“This is the cornerstone upon which the future success of AFP Legacy rests, and we are always looking to improve on that figure, so please consider donating the cost of a purchased coffee once a fortnight. You will be supporting the families behind the badge.”

Perhaps the final word should go to Brittney and Kefi, who summed up what Legacy means to their families

For Brittney, who came into the journey not knowing anyone, it was talking about her dad with people who had known and worked with him.

“To meet police officers who knew my dad and to talk with them and to do this for him…he would be so proud. It also enabled me to represent other police officers who have passed away, and to do this for their families too,” she said

Legatees Brittney and Kefi in an unguarded moment at the Chicago Memorial Service where they honoured their fathers’ memory
Legatees Brittney and Kefi in an unguarded moment at the Chicago Memorial Service where they honoured their fathers’ memory

For Kefi, Route 66 was one of her dad’s bucket list items.

“When the charity came to me and asked if I wanted to be involved I just jumped at it. I was so happy to tick something off his bucket list. I felt very honoured and (it was) like he was there on Route 66 with me the whole way along,” Kefi said.

She was quick to pay tribute to the support provided by Police Legacy to her family.

“This charity has done a lot for us and our families, especially on the financial side; we’ve had help with school fees and indescribable trips like this, but the most important part is the family feel we (both) get from this charity. It’s unlike any other you will find anywhere else – there’s a real brotherhood and sisterhood behind the badge, and it’s definitely been transferred to our families - we are just so grateful to Police Legacy for being here,” she said.

September 29 is National Police Remembrance Day. Do your part to support those behind the badge and arrange a donation to AFP Legacy through workplace giving or donate here.

Organisers would like to thank as major sponsors for the event:

  • Maria Slater Travel
  • Sutton Road Training Centre (aka TISC)
  • Capital Chemists
  • EagleRider
  • DFAT – Australian Consul General Chicago and G’Day USA
  • Deus Ex Machina
  • The Military Shop (Brand Net)
  • Hertz
  • Austbrokers Canberra
  • Australian Knights