Lots of people ask Bill Christman what's in it for him.

It's not money. It's not recognition. What is it that compels this man to devote nearly every moment of his free time to people he doesn't know?

"My dad died when I was 5," he answered. "My uncle was a Top Gun Navy pilot in Vietnam, and I looked up to him.

"For 25 years, I ran a business. I didn't serve. I was married to my work for more than two decades.

"My country has been good to me. I want to do something to give back, and I can't see a better way than through these special operations heroes. I'm more committed to this than anything I've ever done in my life."

The commitment took more than a year to incubate, but the Bettendorf man now has a partner to help propel his give-back intentions into an event with real potential.

For his maiden attempt at a motorcycle ride to benefit Your Grateful Nation, he got too ambitious. A ride from Bettendorf to Dallas was simply too much of a time commitment for many bikers. But word of his idea spread, and the owner of a Des Moines Harley-Davidson dealership talked to Christman about teaming up.

The result is a motorcycle ride that begins with a police escort and a Navy SEAL team member leaving Bettendorf on Saturday, July 16, heading for Big Barn Harley-Davidson in Des Moines. Additional members of U.S. special operations forces will be present for a fundraising celebration that will include bands, music, beer, food and more.

"The whole point here is that 100 percent of the money we raise will go directly to Your Grateful Nation," he said. "It's all about helping with the transition from the battlefield to home.

"The SEALs I've talked to say they're coming to our event to grip and grin (shake hands), but they're doing it for the ones who need help. They don't want thanks. They're very humble people who believe with their very souls that it is their responsibility to protect the American people."

As Christman spoke of his plans from a bench at Davenport's Vander Veer Botanical Park, he pointed to a group of children playing on the edge of the lagoon.

"See how our lives just sort of go along?" he asked. "We are able to take our lives and our freedom for granted, because these guys are off in some distant place fighting for it.

"They don't get recognition, because they can't talk about what they do. There are missions going on at just about any moment, and we'll never know a thing about them."

Those who are carrying out U.S. military missions as members of special operations units are the nation's most highly trained, he reminded.

"Intense training keeps them in battle, so to speak, for at least 10 years," Christman said, acknowledging moments of feeling star struck as he spends an increasing amount of time talking to the highly private SEAL team members. "As gifted as these special-ops people are, they don't know what to do when they get home."

That's where Your Grateful Nation comes in. Using donations, the organization accommodates our special operations forces' complicated transition needs. The group has connected with corporate partners to prepare the specialized veterans for the civilian workforce.

In Christman's mind, there is no greater cause.

Now that he's tweaked his ride into a much more doable event, the whole effort is gaining steam.

A long-time SEAL, still serving, has donated a photo he took during a military mission. Intense in its up-close imagery, a large print of the photo is apt to fetch thousands, Christman predicted. And he and Big Barn already have raised $12,000 in pre-event sponsorships and donations.

"We're truly honored to be a part of this," said Dan Moellers, co-owner of Big Barn. "It's a tremendous cause. We knew they were coming through Des Moines last year, so we contacted the Patriot Riders and put out some flags and had some snacks.

"We got to talking with Bill about the future, and I said I'd love to help out.

"What's really neat is that the money raised goes to those who served in special ops for all the branches. I can't imagine the training and alertness that's expected of them at all times and the heck-of-a-tough transition back."

For Christman, the transition from workaholic to passionate supporter is complete.

"I will do this every year for the rest of my life — as long as I'm physically able," he promised. "That's how committed I am to this."

Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or bickes@qctimes.com.

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