'It was emotional': Local company's workers customize Harley for Wounded Warrior

News-DemocratNovember 2, 2013 

When Chuck Krugh decided his company should fix up a motorcycle to give to a Wounded Warrior, he had no idea how much his employees would embrace the concept.

He also had no idea what a great kid would end up with the bike.

Krugh, senior vice president and general manager of Jet Aviation St. Louis Inc., which is based in Cahokia at St. Louis-Downtown Airport, said everything about the project -- from receiving the original motorcycle, to watching it get customized, to presenting it to Chad Hembree, a former U.S. Army specialist injured during fighting in Afghanistan -- was unbelievably satisfying.

"The selection process had a lot of guys with lots of good stories, but Chad's just stood out," said Krugh, who himself is an Army veteran.

Hembree, 22, who lives with his wife, Kate, in Centerville, Mo., south of Johnson Shut-Ins State Park, received the bike Oct. 22 at the Jet Aviation booth at the 2013 National Business Aviation Association convention in Las Vegas. He and Kate were married the night before.

Both nearly were overcome when they saw the customized Harley-Davidson, complete with an eagle, dog tags with the names of fellow soldiers killed during Operation Bulldog Bite in Afghanistan, and a map of the operation.

At Jet Aviation, the customized Harley-Davidson project was called Operation Hog.

A spokesman for Jet Aviation, Charlie Bosworth, said when the motorcycle was first delivered from Gateway Harley-Davidson, workers cheered and applauded as it was rolled into the work area.

Krugh said veterans make up about a third of their work force.

"I thought this might be something our team could wrap itself around," he said. "It was emotional from the start."

He said many of the veterans had learned their skills in the military and were able to use them to customize the motorcycle. The things that Jet Aviation does in modifying, repairing and refurbishing airplanes also came in handy for the project.

Hembree said he is recovering from a back injury, some brain trauma caused by close-by explosives and post traumatic stress disorder.

He plans to ride the motorcycle when he participates in the Patriot Guard, motorcycle riders who compose an honor guard for military funerals as well as the funerals of firefighters and police.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

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