Thursday, January 25, 2018

The 2018 Annual Appreciation Ride Day 1

     Well, we're coming down to the wire now. It's 04:11 AM and as Mel Fisher would say, "Today's the Day!" This year's candidates have all been chosen, and are all on board. We have received everything our sponsors and donors have generously given us to make our ride a complete success.

     Our stops along the way have all been on board, and we're going to have a great time when we get there. Stillwaters Bar and Restaurant in Star Lake, The Bear Trap Inn in Land O Lakes, and Gooch's A-One in Boulder Junction, are all awaiting our arrival. There was a prediction of new snow in the 10 to 12 inch range, and we got a good 8" of fresh, heavy, and wet snow. The temperatures dropped to eight degrees and the trails are in near perfect condition. As they say in Boston, "Dis yeah's ride might be the best yeah evah."

     Then there are the folks who also made contributions of a different sort:

     The Squeeze Box Stompers, of Winthrop Massachusetts, a Grammy nominated Zydeco band who sent to us a two CD set of their recordings for each of the Soldiers. Ralph Tufo, the band's leader and playwright does this each year without question. Thanks go out to Ralph and the other band members.

     The Gary Sinise Foundation, where Gary himself sends a personalized photo to each of the men and women who participate. One time I happened to visit a Soldier's office at the National Guard Armory, in Medford WI, and noticed that the photo from Mr. Sinise was right there hanging on the wall, proudly, for all to see.

     Ace Hardware in  Woodruff, Wisconsin, who sent along nice woolen heavy duty winter socks and hand and body warmers for each of our new riders to stay warm and comfortable when they are out on the trails.

     Stormy Kromer, of Ironwood Michigan, who each year equips our riders with warm woolen mittens. The quality of their clothing cannot be matched anywhere, and it's all made right here in the USA by the best people in the UP.

     The  Wisconsin National Guard who for the past three years has equipped each soldier with a new back pack stuffed with many useful items for continued use in daily activities.

     The FXR Racing Team, Winnepeg, Manitoba Canada, who when we reached out to them they were quick to supply each and every soldier with a complete FXR Racing suit. We have been very lucky to have them on board as one of our sponsors. We really appreciate the opportunity to represent their brand, and we wear and display it proudly. Find FXR here:


The New-tom Snow Fleas, Lake Tomahawk, WI is another snowmobile club who is supporting our ride this year with a visa card to fill the sleds with gas. They are responsible for the maintenance and grooming of over 120 miles of trails. We cannot thank them enough for their support. If you live in the Tomahawk or Lake Tomahawk area this is another great club to join.


     Northland Docks in Arbor Vitae Wisconsin, who supply our lodging at their "Camp Shed Horn" in Watersmeet, Michigan. Not only do they let us stay there, but they also provide us with two of their sleds to use for the week-end. Rene and Neal Anderson are very generous to do this for us, and we hope to continue this relationship year after year. Check out the camp here:


     Shoeders Marine in Rhinlander Wisconsin. This year we welcome a new addition to our fabulous lineup of sponsors. Shoeders Marine was very generous to donate a new HJC helmet for one of our soldiers to use and keep. The folks there are terrific! Find them here:


     Suzie's Designs, St. Germain, Wisconsin. Each year Suzie hand crafts a piece of jewelry or two for our female participants. Each year it is something unique and special.

     Dr. Liesen and Dr. Pinzl of Woodruff, Wisconsin. For the past three years Dr. Pinzl and his staff have made sure that our soldiers have proper dental hygiene products for their use. There offices are here:


     Stillwaters Bar and Restaurant in Star Lake Wisconsin. For the past three years Stillwater is our lunch stop on our ride. Chuck Altamore and his wife Karen have fed the troops generously, year after year. They are always warm and welcoming. Chuck is a former Navy man and always says. "Anything for the troops!" Check them out here:


     The Sayner Barnstomers Snowmobile Club in Sayner Wisconsin. When we reached out to this organization they could not respond quick enough. Their generous donation will certainly help put gas in the sleds, and food on the table. When we personally thanked their President Mr. Dennis Horan, again he said, "Anything for the Troops". Dennis is a former Army Ranger. We cannot thank the Barnstormers enough. If you're looking for a great club to join, this is the one. And, you can save money on that trail pass if you belong to a club. Join them here:


     R&R Motorsports of Hazelhurst, Wisconsin is new to our list of sponsors this year. R&R will be  providing a sled for one of our soldiers to use over the week-end. If you are an Artic Cat person, this is the place to go. If you're an ATVer, check out the new Textron Stampede UTV. They are an authorized dealer.


     Ryden Marine of Minocqua Wisconsin. Each year for the past three years Minocqua Yamaha has let us use a snowmobile for our event. After Minocqua Yamaha was bought by Ryden Marine, our relationship continued. We hope this partnership will last for years to come. We personally own and use two Yamaha Venture two-up sleds. One is a Venture Lite and the other is a Venture MP. We have never had any problems with these sleds and this is the place that we have them serviced at. We trust these sleds and the last thing we need is a mishap or failure when out on the trails with new riders on board.


Trig's Grocery in Eagle River, WI. We met the store director Terry last week at the Snowmobile Derby World Championships. When Terry found out about Soldiers on Sleds and what we were all about, he did not hesitate to offer to help us out. So yesterday, we went to Trig's and did all of our grocery shopping for the week-end. With their generous donation, we were able to fill our baskets with all the needed items to make our stay at Camp Shed Horn. One of the things we learned while there is that they offer an online shopping service where you can shop, and they will deliver your groceries right to your door. This is a great service, especially if you are elderly. You can make sure grandma or grandpa is getting the nutrition they need by ordering items on line and having them delivered to their homes. Terry is one generous guy, and Soldiers on Sleds welcomes Trigs to our family of sponsors. 


     There were also many individual contributors who also helped make this event the success it is. Mr. James and Kathy Kane of Lynn Massachusetts, Mr. Dennis and Dianne Dieter of St. Germain, WI, Mr. David and Dorothy Brosseit of St. Germain WI, Mr. Dennis and Anita Horan of St. Germain WI, Mr. Arthur Bourgeois of Exeter, NH, and all those contributors who dropped their dollars into our donation box at Stillwaters Bar and Restaurant. Without them we could not ride.

     Being a soldier is something that is not easy to explain if you have not been in the military. There is a special bond that develops among them. It is not easy living in close quarters, especially in mixed company. Camp Shed Horn sleeps seventeen. That's a lot of people in a small space. You have to get along, and throw away your inhibitions. But it is very interesting to watch these men and women as they come together, some never having met the other, and quickly start working together as one team.

     So today's the day. We'll pack the truck up and head on out to the Camp. Drop of items and drive back the 60 miles or so, load it up, and do it all over again.  Meanwhile, we have heard from some of the soldiers who are planning on an early arrival. They are leaving their homes from all over the state this morning, and heading on up to Camp Shed Horn. By noon there should be a lot of them there. Tonight's menu: Jumbo Hot Dogs and all of the trimmings.

Keep looking here for updates as the trip and week-end progress. We'll post photos as we take them and put a new posting together...........

Friday, February 24, 2017

Annual Appreciation Ride 2017

Well, the 2017 Soldiers on Sleds Annual Appreciation Ride is over and in the books. Time now to start planning for next years ride.

We wish to thank all of our sponsors who proudly came through again this year. They include, Northland Docks, FXR Racing, Wisconsin Public Services, Stillwaters Bar and Grill, Marshfield Clinic, Liesen and Pinzel Dental Offices, Wisconsin National Guard, Ryden Marine, Jim and Kathy Kane, Pat and Kathy Blair, William (Hop Crow) Kokaska and his daughter PJ Kokaska, Stormy Kromer, St. Germain ATV Club Inc., Steven Soltweidel, Mia Heike and Frank Beaton, Susan Stein, and Roger and Carla Klein. This team of sponsors, volunteers, and contributors all pulling together is what makes it all happen.

This year we had a total of ten participants, five of them all active duty soldiers, and three of them retired army, Roger Klein and I. But all in all we were all veterans of the armed forces who fought bravely or provided support, in many different conflicts over the years, and in areas all throughout the world. This group of individuals bring many stories to the table, and that sharing is part of why we do what we do. We all learn from each other, and are still learning, no matter what our ages are.

This is a photo of the group just prior to boarding their assigned sleds and showing off their new their brand new Stormy Kromer mittens and new FXR snowmobile suits. A big thanks goes out to Andrea Ludtke of Stormy Kromer for making this happen.

They're also wearing their new FXR Racing suits generously donated from FXR Racing. Thank you Carla Reimer for making this happen for us again this year. It is a joy to see the smiles on these faces when they receive their new attire. They simply cannot believe that someone or a company really appreciates the sacrifices they make to keep us safe.

Our week-end started this year on a Thursday. A soldier called and asked if it was possible to come a day earlier and take in some ice fishing. Well low and behold there were others that wanted to do the same thing so a quick call to Neal and Renee of Northland Docks and the owners of Camp Shed Horn in Watersmeet MI, set the wheels in motion and generously obliged their request. So on Thursday they started to arrive. By early Friday morning they were out on the ice and drilling holes and placing tip ups. In fact it got to be a competitive hole drilling exercise between Sergent First Class Richard Helm and Staff Sergent Jennifer Driebel to see who could drill a whole the fastest. Army competition at its finest.
       Soon after tip ups were placed and dressed with minnows. There was a novice fisherman, Sergent Cara Butterfield, who was shown how to bait her hook, clean the ice hole, adjust her depth, and bite off the tail of the minnow. Sgt Dreibel told her that it would give the minnow more action. Here she is:
It didn't take long to get a flag on one of the tip ups and here is Sgt. Tiffany Georges attending to that charge.

One small Northern was caught, which I filleted and put into the freezer. See the happy faces. Here is Sgt. Cara Butterfield holding the fish followed by Sgt. Tiffany Georges.
Staff Sgt, Butterfield, before the Northern is filleted!
Sgt. Tiffany Georges display the catch of the day!
As you can see below, Sgt. Butterfield took those fillets home, and her eight year old son, Brody,  was elated as he devoured his mom's catch.
SSgt Cara Butterfield cooks up the Northern fillet.
Mom brought home some fish and made this one happy fella!

Friday Evening we took everyone to the Gateway Lodge in Land of Lakes for a typical Wisconsin fish fry. However, because the weather was very warm, the snowmobile trails leading to the lodge were in very poor condition so we decided it would be safer, and less wear and tear on our sleds, to go there by car. The fish was very good. After dinner we headed back to Camp Shed Horn to relax. Some soldiers took advantage of the sauna at the camp, while others watched TV, and still others played a card game, which I am told, everyone was playing and involved till the late evening.

Arriving at the Camp early Saturday morning we made the soldiers coffee, juice, pancakes, and venison bacon. This breakfast was quite a hit with everyone, as they awoke one by one and ventured sleepily into the kitchen.  The venison bacon was provided by Sgt. Bruce Free, and Sergent First Class Terry Marsh. But then it was time to suit up in their new FXR suits and head out to mount the sleds. However, as you can see from the photos below, by afternoon the trails were totally impassible. But that morning they we still somewhat OK, and our sled instructor Captain Roger Klein (Retired) instructed the novice riders and took them out heading North towards Marenisco, MI from Watersmeet, MI.
Viewing the poor trail conditions.
Viewing the trails behind the sled.

Captain Klein goes over the controls with SSgt Butterfield......
We were all loaded up and they were off on their morning ride. When they returned I took this short video of their arrival.                                                                                                                            

However, the trails were really in poor shape and we decided that our next stop at Stillwaters in Star Lake would be via automobile. So we loaded everyone up and we were on our way. Destination Stillwaters Restaurant and Bar. We were greeted by the best cook and staunch supporter of Soldiers on Sleds year after year, Mr. Chuck Altamore owner of Stillwaters and a Navy man to boot. He is such a great guy and always tells me,  "Anything for the Vets!".
Stillwaters Restaurant and Bar on Highway K in Star Lake, Wisconsin
Once we arrived we were greeted by a very strong supporter of our military, our waitress, Debby, who always makes a point, year after year, of providing the group with their first round of appetizers. As we were seated at the tables that were brightly decorated we were met by a reporter from the Lakeland Times, who wanted to get some photos of our event and some information on who was there in our group. Shortly thereafter, the menus were passed out, and at my encouragement, a lot of the soldiers chose to get the Italian Beef Sandwich, which is by far is the best Italian Beef in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. All of the beef at Stillwaters is made in house, as is their delicious Hot Gardinera and sauteed sweet peppers. The chef himself greeted us, and posed for some photos. Personally, I go to Stillwaters as often as I can and always get the Italian Beef. It's too far to travel to Chicago. After all, if you can go there, and get it from Chuck, why would you venture anywhere else......

After dining and some  great conversation we were off to our next destination, Bents Camp Resort and their annual Radar Races and Bikini Run fundraiser. With the weather as warm as it was, there was a lot of slush on the ice. We were pleasantly surprised to learn the one of our soldiers, Major Angela Arntz, was a former professional snow cross racer, who toured extensively throughout Wisconsin, Minnessota and Michigan. Currently she is a practicing Nurse Practitioner in the US Army National Guard. It was comforting to know she was on board with us old folks, Roger and I. You just never know when you'd need her in an emergency, and after all, we had some pretty nifty first aid gear provided by the Marshfield Clinic in Minocqua.

Here is a link to an aerial video of the Radar Run.

Soon it was time to go and return to the camp. We had made no firm plans for dinner, and one of the soldiers thought she'd like to use the kitchen and make dinner for all of us. So her and another soldier headed off to the local market in Watersmeet MI, to pick up a few things. I know for me, and probably Roger too and a few others, that I had not had a supper (New England term) of hot tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches since I was a kid. SSGT Buttefield used her culinary skills to make this soup, pretty much from scratch, while SFC Helm helped out in the kitchen with the sandwiches. Everyone seemed to enjoy their impromptu evening meal. Just goes to prove, that these soldiers are always ready, and can certainly improvise when needed.

Can we have seconds?
As you can see there wasn't a morsel of leftovers left behind.
The camp cook takes her bows!
It was still early so after dinner some of them ventured out, and down the road for a visit to Roger's Bar which is located on old highway State Route 2, within walking distance of the camp. Once inside they were greeted by the local clientele. Someone announced to the other patrons, who they were and why they were in the neighborhood, with which they were treated like the belonged there. Just another one of the family of locals, and they had a great time talking, and enjoying their new found friends, enjoying the local hospitality. But just as soon as the fun started it was time to head back to camp. The next morning we would be saying our good byes.

When I arrived at the camp the next morning, I brought Paczki's that were freshly baked at the local Pick n Save in Eagle River. Some in the group had never had them before, and they were quickly devoured.
Pazki's in preparation for Fat Tuesday!
But then it was time to clean up, strip the beds, pack up, and head on out. One things for sure, you never have to ask a soldier to make a bed or help clean up, They just jump in and do it. Here is Sargent Jennifer Dreibel, as she tries to close the hatch on already stuffed car.
Sgt. Driebel packs her car.

It's hard to end a great week-end like this and say good bye to new friends and old ones alike. But I think we achieve our goals and objectives. They all stated they had a great time, even though there was limited snowmobiling. It didn't really seem to matter, and the camaraderie was much more important to them. Some said just getting away together with others of their soldier community, spending time with each other, and not have in a worry in the world during their week-end, was well worth the trip they took to get there. But for us, the people who volunteer and who run the Soldiers on Sleds organization it is not over by no means, as we start to plan again for next year.

Thanks again to all those who support us in achieving our goals and objectives. We will certainly do it all again next year for sure. We hope you will join us in support and in spirit, even if you cannot be there in person...........

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Soldiers on Sleds Builds Lasting Relationships

There are many times when folks meet for short encounters, and that's the last time they see each other. However, that is not the case with the Soldiers on Sleds organization. Take a situation last week, and let me introduce you to one of our Soldiers on Sleds participants. Here is Sargent Jennifer Driebel, a seasoned combat Medic, with experience in the field, both in, and out of the Armed Services.
When Jennifer is not serving her fellow soldiers, she travels all over the US as a Wellness Nurse, attending to many employees of various companies, drawing blood samples, checking temperature, pulse, and respiration (TPR) as well as conducting cholesterol screenings, thereby ensuring their health and safety.

Here Jennifer draws a blood sample from a fellow soldier.
She takes her work very seriously, trains constantly, and provides the compassion needed to fullfil such an important mission. She is just one, of the many more like her. And we are very proud that she is a member of our Soldiers on Sleds family.

Because of our on going relationship Jennifer recently contacted us, and informed us she was going to be doing some work up in our neck of the woods, and was inquiring where she might go fishing. Being an avid outdoors person, she always tries to find outdoor activities when she is traveling on the road. An accomplished  hunter, and fisherwoman, she had some time in between her appointments, and wanted to know if we could point her in the right direction. But better than that we reeled her in and took her on an afternoon adventure in Wisconsin's North Woods. First, we hit the Rainbow flowage, just below the dam, where she demonstrated her outdoor abilities. She had her own rod, reel, and tackle equipment, and within a short she landed two Northern Pike and lost something else which was of good size. From there we headed over to Pickerel Lake and out onto Captain Roger Klein's boat and headed for the weeds. But right by the dock, before we left, she picked up a small Musky. One that was very tired from the recent spawn. It was quickly placed back into the water where it gently swam away.

Once the boat was lowered into the water and we settled on board, we headed for the far side of the lake in search of the elusive crappie population. And it didn't take long for us to find them. But we did have some competition from a local resident Loon, who lingered nearby our boat for some time to spy on our success (or failure, as the case may be) at this quiet, and calm part of the lake.

 But Jennifer is a real good fisherwoman, and it did not take her long to catch the first crappie:
Just look at that determined look on her face. This one was followed by about eight more, a few perch, and one keeper Northern Pike.  But then it was over, just as fast as it started and we had to head back. 
I think she really enjoyed her afternoon out on the water with us two old  soldiers. But the thrill of the Northwoods was not over for her, just quite yet.

You see, if you are going to get the whole Northwoods experience you have to see first-hand, and up close everything that is there!

But more importantly , Jennifer got to see up close and personal, a Northwoods rarity, and that is one of our popular Albino Deer, this one was  nicknamed, Mamma. Mamma was there with her yearling fawn to check us out and see what we were up too.
Jennifer could not believe how close she was able to get up to her and snap a few photos. Mama was about six years old now and was very familiar with the area and the people who live in it. Her yearling, well that's another story?

As for Jennifer?  I am sure we will hear from her the next time she is in the neighborhood. We were glad to hear from her, and we're glad she reached out to us. It was good to see her again, and  spending the afternoon with us, was certainly our pleasure, as  we would welcome all of out Soldiers on Sleds family.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Soldiers on Sleds Annual Appreciation Ride 2016

Over the past year, the Soldiers on Sleds organization ( has been very busy contacting our partners, and finding new partners to help us make the 2016 Soldiers on Sleds Appreciation Ride become a reality. This year we have added many new partners. There were many individuals who supported our efforts, and who helped make this years ride another huge success! Our sincere thanks goes out to each and every one of them.

One of our new sponsors is the Stormy Kromer Company. During the summer we had an opportunity to tour the Stormy Kromer factory in Ironwood, Michigan ( and got to watch, as their fine staff tirelessly labored at their various machinery making their products. Although they are known for the famous Stormy Kromer hat, another one of the products they make, are high quality thick woolen mittens, that are very warm and comfortable and trimmed in fine leather. When we asked them to participate in our event they immediately stepped up to the plate, without hesitation, and generously outfitted ALL of our soldiers with a pair of these warm mittens. We cannot thank them enough! Our soldiers really like them, as was apparent by how they guarded them, never letting them out of their sight, just as they guard us on a daily basis. It was quite an interesting thing to watch, as they donned them when venturing outside in the cold evening air. We thank you again Stormy Kromer!

Wisconsin Public Service Foundation has supported us from the beginning by providing us a grant for tha past two seasons. We cannot thank them enough. With their help we are able to make this ride happen.

Another new partner was Minocqua Yamaha ( who came through just when we needed them to, by helping us out when one of our snowmobiles had engine trouble, and was put out of commission. We immediately contacted Jeff, the owner, and without hesitation he volunteered to let us use one of his brand new Yamaha snowmobiles. But because we didn't have an enclosed trailer to protect it, he even let us use his enclosed trailer so we could transport it from Minocqua, WI, to Watersmeet, MI. One of the soldiers, Sargent First Class Richard Helm, who was on the road and driving up to Watersmeet, from Medford, WI with two of the other Sargent's who were traveling with him. He quickly altered his route and headed directly to the Yamaha dealership to pick up the much needed sled. Our hats go off to Jeff and his team for helping us out when we really needed it, and Sargent Helm for coming to the rescue.

FXR Racing was one of our returning supporters and sponsors again this year. When I contacted them in January, they responded, to our call and agreed to generously provide each of our participants with brand new snowmobile jackets and bib outfits. It is said by avid snowmobiler's that a snowmobile suit is the second major purchase after buying a sled. These suits are of such high quality our soldiers will enjoy them for years to come. Just as important as it is to have a good running machine to take you where you need to go, so it is for having a good snowmobile suit to protect you from the cold. But the FXR Racing suit is much more than just to keep you warm. It is very special too. Not only does it keep you warm, when needed, it also has built in flotation to protect you in case of emergencies, should your sled go through the ice.
The Scotch-Lite reflective material incorporated into the design makes it very easy to see the sleds' riders in front of you on the trail at night. They are waterproof, and breathable, to wick away the sweat when hard riding. The quality built into these suits cannot be matched anywhere. The style and design is also top notch! We cannot thank them enough. The surprise and smiles on the faces of the soldiers as they received their suits was worth a million dollars, at least. These suits will only entice them to participate in the sport of snowmobiling for years to come. Continued participation in the sport, which is an important goal of the Soldiers on Sleds organization is of the essence. After a hard days ride on washboard trails there was no fatigue evident in the faces of our soldiers, just a lot of warm smiles. Here is a photo of Sargent Cara Butterfield, as she sits on a snowmobile for her first time showing off her new FXR Racing snowmobile suit. Once our certified snowmobile instructor Captain Roger Klein (US Army retired) provided some instruction to her, she was well on her way to enjoying the ride of a lifetime........

Our home base was Camp Shed Horn in Watersmeet Michigan. This facility is provided to us through a generous donation from Neal and Rene Anderson of Northland Docks (www, These are two of the finest and most generous people any organization could want as supporters.
This camp is available for rent through Northland Docks, it accommodates Soldiers on Sleds very comfortably and will sleep up to seventeen individuals, with a lower level bunk room, and kitchen, and an upper level with bunks, pool table and small bar. In the back there is a sauna where our soldiers were eager to partake in. There are two small fishing ponds on the premises stocked with trout, bluegills, and perch. It is conveniently located on the snowmobile trail MI Rte 3, and this also serves as an ATV trail in that season. One could not ask for a better place when hosting a large group of people. But if you need docks for the lake front or dock related services, please give Neal a call, and Northland Docks will certainly address your needs.........

We wish to thank Mr. Jim Willard, of the band Rubber Soul for his generous contribution. His dedication to our efforts is without question. Rubber Soul is a Beatles tribute band located in Townsend Massachusetts. Jim and his group perform all over New England, and are excellent entertainers if you happen to catch one of their performances. You can find their performance schedule or contact information, by looking them up on Facebook at "The Rubber SOUL Band".

Located just outside of Boston Massachusetts is a Cajun/Zydeco band known as "The Squeezebox Stompers". They perform all over the New England area. Their leader, Mr. Ralph Tufo, was kind enough to send to our soldiers a
three CD set of their original recordings. Ralph is also an accomplished playwright and his new play is called "Katrina Roadhouse" which is the story of people who were displaced by hurricane Katrina. It tells about how they waited out the storm in a local gathering place located down in New Orleans. One of those CDs Ralph donated was the soundtrack from the play. If you're ever in the Boston area look up The Squeezebox Stompers, you surely will not be disappointed. You can find their schedule here at When we contacted Ralph, an old friend, he just asked "What do you need me to do, and I'll take care of it." One of the great people who answered our call and quickly stepped up to help make this event the huge success it was. It's people like Ralph who help to make this all happen.

Mr. Chuck Altamore, an ex-Navy man, and his wife Karen, are the owners of Stillwaters Bar and Restaurant and always look forward to hosting lunch for the soldiers. This is our second year of going there and we look forward to going there again next year. Their waitress "Debby" could not have been more gracious. She specifically asks to be our waitress when we come in and sit down, she buys all of the soldiers delicious Northwoods appetizers prior to their main meal. She is GREAT people, and our thanks go to her for making the soldiers feel so welcomed. They still talk about the food and hosts at Stillwaters.

Stillwaters has the best Italian beef sandwich in the Northwoods. It is homemade by the master, Chuck himself, and his homemade jardiniere hot peppers is not to be matched anywhere, bar none......simply delicious.

These are the 2016 Soldiers on Sleds Appreciation Ride participants: L to R: Sgt. Jennifer Dreibel, Capt. Roger Klein, Sgt. Cara Butterfield, MSGT Steven Sitte, MSGT Mark Ruden, SFC Richard Helm, SGT Mitchel Phelps, SGT Sean Shemenaur, Jack Bourgeois (President of Soldiers on Sleds and former USN), Chuck Altamore (owner of Stillwaters and former USN).

In the beginning..................
It's Friday, February 19th, 2016. It started out simple enough, packing the truck, loading the snowmobiles on the trailer, and heading for the 60 mile ride to Camp Shed Horn where Captain Klein was already waiting for us to arrive. But I ran into some difficulty in getting my two sleds on the trailer as the ramp was too short and the angle was too steep. Time to improvise, with two come-a-longs, a tow strap, and a boat wench, we got the job done.
As I drove into the driveway, Roger had already unloaded his two sleds and parked them adjacent to each other in our staging area. My truck, gear, boxes, and sleds were unloaded while we awaited the arrival of the rest of our soldiers. And one by one they came. Two of the soldiers had brought their own sleds, all the way from Chippewa Falls and Pardee City, Wisconsin, and quickly took them off the trailers, parking them with the others. Once inside the camp building they looked around quickly choosing their bunk, and then got settled in. Each soldier did this as they arrived in groups of twos and threes.

We had divided the cabin in two living spaces with separate quarters for the female soldiers, who would be housed upstairs, while the men would take up space in the bunk room on the first level. This was more of an issue for me than for them. I come from Old School Navy, when I served we did not have mixed company living quarters, but it did not seem to bother them, as much as I had trouble understanding the new Army. But after all, my kids are older than any of them. Meanwhile, outside, there was a slight misting rain gently falling to the ground, making everything wet and slick. This made all of the snow outside and on the trails very, very slippery.

That evening we were scheduled to ride to the Gateway Lodge in Land of Lakes, Wisconsin, to partake in their Friday night Fish Fry, a local favorite.
To get there by snowmobile, we have to travel about about 20 miles away on those rain slicked trails. However, getting there safely, would have two things against us that we'd have to overcome, especially with novice riders among us. The first one was that the outside air temperature had risen to a warm thirty-eight degrees, during the day, which made the heavily traveled trails very soft, granular and mushy. It was very bumpy from all of the day's sled traffic. It was especially very slippery, and dangerous, in the turns, and we had four novice riders along. Speed control was of the essence. The second issue to overcome was that with the rain, coming down the way it was, would spray water droplets on the face shields making visibility at night that much more difficult. As stated before, all of the trails were very slippery, with ice directly underneath the soft trail snow. We had to be very careful with our speed and guard over the novice riders.

The soldiers donned their new FXR Racing snowmobile suits, new balaclavas, new gloves, and Soldiers on Sleds helmets, after which, we were quickly out the door.
Each person chose their sled. Because we were one sled short, the female soldiers chose to ride together on my Yamaha Venture Lite two up, while I drove my Yamaha Venture Multi Purpose (MP) Sled. Roger was seated on his new Ski-Doo Enduro, and Sgt Sean Shemenhauer took the new Yamaha sled the dealer loaned us. Of course the two soldiers who brought their own, rode those, and Sargent First Class Richard Helm rode on the sled provided to us by Camp Shed Horn. It was unbelievable how quickly the two female soldiers mastered the maneuvering on such a big and heavy sled, as the two up Venture Lite Yamaha is just that, big and heavy. You would never know they were snowmobiling novices, as I followed behind the group taking up the last position of the column.

As we left the staging area, with Captain Klein in the lead, it took about an hour to get to our assigned destination, where the hostess, also a military veteran, had a table already set up for us. Traveling there, the trails were generally were flat for about the first seven miles or so, with some of the ride traveling on paved snow covered road surfaces. The roads' shoulders were like washboards on both sides, worn that way from sledders looking to stay off the pavements surface, which certainly can ruin the skis carbide runners as they scrape along the hard pavement. This was also true of the trails we traveled that went through the dark and rainy forests. Up and down, up and down, was the ride, not smooth at all. The effort required to maintain control of the sled was very hard on ones shoulders and arms. This was true even for the most experienced rider, but all of our soldiers handled it well! Even more difficult for them was that now it was night time. It was certainly very dark out now, as we traveled along the trail. Except for the headlights of the snowmobiles themselves, there were no lights in the forest, except an occasional rider coming towards us in the opposite direction. The good news is that no water from the rain ever penetrated their new snowmobile suits, and the suits provided every comfort a rider could ask for. They performed just as they were designed to. The soldiers could not believe how suited they were to handle the current riding conditions.

The fish fry was excellent, with choice of fried or broiled fish, baked beans, potato salad, coleslaw, tartar sauce and soft drinks. As in the past, and a strict Soldiers on Sleds policy, we NEVER drink any alcohol and drive while out on our sleds, a rule we strictly adhere to, ALWAYS, with no exceptions. While dining, the good conversation, provided us time to get to know each other a lot better.

Once back to the cabin it was early to bed for some, and a late night for others. It was very easy to separate the the two groups according to our ages........

The next morning we served a breakfast meal of hot cakes, sausage links, hot coffee, fresh orange juice and cranberry juice for the troops. One by one they wiped the sand away from their eyes, as they awoke and entered the kitchen and enjoyed the well deserved meal. With so many helpers on board, cleanup was a breeze. But soon after, it was time to get dressed and head out to the sleds for the challenging ride to Stillwaters.
Before leaving I gave each one of them a pack of trading cards I had received from my personal friend Mr. Walter Day. Walter is the recognized "Father of eGames". In each pack there was a challenge coin that Walter had made arrangements to send to us. On one side of the coin it said "In Walter We Trust" on the other side was an embossed likeness of the man himself. I explained who Walter was, and how he is related to the electronics gaming industry, his honesty and respect throughout the world when it comes to high score records and he was the keeper of the records, similar to Guinness World Records, but to the gaming industry. I told them of how he made the cover of Time Magazine some years ago, and how one of the characters in the movie Wreck It Ralph was modeled after him. He was sending his best wishes and thanks to the troops. I watched as the inspected Walters gift to them......

A short time later we were all suited up and ready to hit the trails. to head to Stillwaters Restaurant and Bar. Roger gave some detailed instruction to Sargent Butterfield on how to safely operate the Yamaha Ventur-Lite snowmobile, as she was going to drive that day.
The trip under ideal trail conditions should only take about two hours or so, but this day because of adverse trail conditions, it would take much longer. Leaving at about 9:45AM, we traveled about an hour to Land of Lakes to fill up with gas which, was only about twenty miles away. From there we'd hit the trails again and travel further on South another thirty miles to get to Stillwaters, where we arrived at about 12:30PM. About a half an hour later than we'd planned but all things considered we made good time. We had bad trails, rain, sleet, novice riders and still, we made good time. Their military training surely had something to do with their excellent performance.

Once our meal was done, we went outside and took a few pictures. It was now time to hit the trails again, and head over to Gooch's-A-One restaurant and bar for dinner. This would take us about three hours under normal circumstances, but the rough trail and wash board conditions was beginning to take its toll. We stopped frequently to rest.
As we rounded one corner, we had to slow up to a stop as there were many sleds stopped in the roadway. It seems that a thirteen year old girl had driven off the trail and hit a tree. Fortunately, she did not get hurt, her sled was OK, and she was in the company of many others. It was obvious our assistance was not needed as the group waved us on through. A short time later another rider spun out on the trail and flipped his sled over. This happened as I got separated from the rest of our group due to heavy trail traffic, and was riding behind another group of twenty riders. The person that was involved in this second accident, a young male rider, was also OK. He was in the middle of the twenty riders, who were driving way to fast for the conditions present at the time. I was again waved on through, as the chaos ensued, and caught up to the rest of our soldiers on sleds group, who were sitting parked and waiting for me down the trail.

I spoke to our trail leader and we decided it was not in anyone's best interest to try to continue on. Because of that we would head back to Camp Shed Horn. It was the safest thing to do. Nightfall was coming, and it would be difficult enough with the hazardous trails to try to continue. We were bout twenty-five miles from camp and so we headed back.

Upon our arrival everyone was beat, to say the least. But they were not discouraged. They spoke of their experience, and there were no negative experiences stated. They were all excited and despite everything, had a great time. Everyone was in good spirits, and enjoyed each and every minute of their ride. I tried to explain to the novice riders that this weather was highly unusual and definitely not the norm. But to my surprise their experience was much to the positive. I guess their trill of adventure was much more than I expected, as they all expressed interest in future snowmobiling activities. Which is one the organizations goals, to introduce combat veterans to the sport of snowmobiling with the hope that they will continue in the sport. Fortunately, we got back early enough before dinner to allow some much needed rest.

But what to do for our evening meal? For dinner they all decided to head, by car, to Rogers Bar and Grill, which was about a mile away from camp.....Saturday night was not a very late night for these weary soldiers, and the cabin roof rocked with nighttime noises of snoring, grunts and groans as the exhausted soldiers slept the night away.

The next morning, Sunday, each of them awoke to the smell of fresh coffee, baked spiral cut ham, sizzling in the frying pan, and the smell of eggs and toast with fresh Wisconsin butter. One by one they came to the kitchen table, relaxed and enjoyed their home cooked meal. We had decided to cancel our morning trip to Bonn Falls because of the poor trail conditions. The conversation around the table was about the good time they had the day before, and their long ride home, their appreciation for all that our sponsors had provided to them, and how they were praying for much our needed snow for the rest of the snowmobiling season, and how they could not wait to end their long ride home to tell all about their great week-end with Soldiers on Sleds. 'Till Next Year! But next month for us, it'll start all over as we begin plans for next years ride.......