By Ricky Jimenez Carasco
When it began, all Darrell Mond wanted to do was created a group of likeminded veterans to help his fellow Veterans and soldiers. A few years later, the “El Paso Veterans and Riders Association,” or E.P.V.R.A., has evolved into a veteran’s political force, meeting with local elected officials on how to best serve the area’s underserved, and often overlooked, veterans. Neither he nor the EPVRA and its members are afraid of getting their hands dirty, participating in the area’s biker events and helping individual veterans who need assistance.
Sun City Biker: How did the EPVRA get started?
Mond: We had started a biker association called the “First Armored Division Riders.” We were trying to support the current active soldiers on Fort Bliss especially the Wounded Warrior Battalion. We noticed that they were already getting a lot of support, but we had fellow veterans starving on the streets and no one was really reaching out the way we thought they should. So in 2013, we created the “El Paso Veterans & Riders Association” with our primary focus being El Paso area veterans and their families.
SCB: Do you remember a tipping point that made you create the EPVRA?
When we started talking to friends and fellow vets, we heard how so many had problems making their claims in the VA, or had problems after that. We conducted our first bike run and our first food drive with Ms. Delia Briones. We spent that Christmas Day delivering food, gifts and even Christmas trees to El Paso’s Veterans. We met a Vietnam Veteran who was really struggling. He had received custody of his grandkids for various reasons. We rode out to give him food, toys and a Christmas Tree for him and the kids. His eyes watered up as he said, “Wow, people really care.” He wanted to share what little bit of food he had with us, though we politely refused. That convinced us that we needed to do more than what we realized we were capable of. So many veterans share his feelings of being abandoned.
SCB: In this and other conversations, since you’ve talked with officials on both sides of the political aisle for a singular purpose, would you consider yourselves a “watchdog” group?
We are a watchdog group, there is no doubt. We work with people like Congressman Beto O’Rourke and he’s been phenomenal and he’s kept his promise towards veterans. But we also work to empower our fellow veterans. They do have to take an active step towards solving their problems. Many vets don’t understand what they’re entitled to. When I got my medical discharge in 1993, nobody knocked on my door and showed me what I had to do. It wasn’t until 2004 that I got my 100%, but I did it the hard way. Many times, vets don’t even know where to go. And that’s a problem because people outside the service don’t understand what we went through. Most vets from WWII through the Gulf War say that they would enlist again. Myself and fellow vets, we swore the oath of enlistment and we still live by that today. We would proudly stand today and defend our great nation!
SCB: Was working with officials always part of your methodology?
No! No, we really just wanted to ride motorcycles and drink beer! (laughs) We saw the need, and we never expected such good reactions and support from those officials, not to mention the businesses. Casa Ford has always been there for us, supplying vehicles, making t-shirts etc. L&F Distributors (Budweiser), is another one. On our last food drive, they supplied our event t-shirts and even changed their logo to say “Our veterans, our responsibility.” Randy Johnson, Flowers Bakery, Pepsico, Savers are other businesses have always supported us. There are so many others that have joined with us in support of our fellow Veterans. We also help guide them how they can better support veterans and veteran’s issues. Then we have supporters like Barnett Harley-Davidson who just jumped in and starting helping us from the start. We do really appreciate those who help us. God Bless them!
SCB: As bikers, you show up on your bike wearing your patch. Do those symbols help or hinder your efforts?
I don’t think it’s either. People need to realize that patch does not make you a bad person. It’s easy to generalize. We’ve seen local politicians and businessmen being arrested for various infractions. Would it be fair to judge all of them as criminals? The biker community does so much in EP and most people don’t know that. We also work with other veterans groups, everyone knows we love riding our Harleys and that detail has little to do with what we’re trying to do. I’ve been friends with Ray Borrego and the San Elizario Veterans for a long time and they do so much out there, including the museum and the parade. They’re easy to work with and we have supported them every chance we get. They don’t care if we show up on Harleys or in our Fords, they just know we are there to support them.
SCB: What’s a problem you see within the veteran’s community as a whole.?
I’m not a veteran’s counselor, though I will help out where I can, in finding the right connections and the right paperwork for a veteran to fill out. But that’s the first step, to look for the right way to help themselves. Many times, people will complain about a problem and they find that very fulfilling. We will ask our fellow Veterans and everyone, “How can we find a solution together?” That’s been our strong suit, to get to the heart of the matter and find a solution and implement it. Take Congressman Beto O’Rourke; before him, veterans weren’t really getting the help they needed. And instead of complaining, we’ve made headway by sitting down and asking how we can best help each other to help veteran’s causes and now he and his staff works closely with us. He has helped us so much that we made him an Honorary Member of the EPVRA! Only he and Delia Briones have earned this honor from us. So many others have stepped up, Southwest University and Commissioner Leon hold Blanket Drives for El Paso’s Veterans. Savers have always donated jackets and clothing. Office Depot donated special bags so we can more easily distribute the food, blankets and other items. It’s all coming together! Many businesses as well need that guidance because they’ve never been approached. Businesses like Casa Ford, Harbor Freight, L&F Distributors are extremely happy to help because they want to make a difference in the Veteran’s community.
SCB: Have you seen your influence of the EPVRA outside of EP?
Yes, definitely. Like our food drive with Delia Briones. (The EPVRA, in conjunction with Ms. Briones, E. Paso County Clerk and her offices, have hosted canned food drives for the past couple of years resulting in thousands of pounds of food being donated to local Veterans) We called other city governments like Dallas, San Antonio and Austin to ask for input and they had never heard of such an idea and now they’ve started planning their own events. I have a new friend in the Dallas area who works with veterans who calls me often to pick my brain. Other Texans just don’t seem to realize just how advanced El Paso is. We’ve gotten awards from the county, state and federal levels, so yes, people know what we’re doing and they’ll often contact us for input. Mostly they contact us to help us help our fellow Veterans. Many of our local elected officials deeply appreciate Veterans and the EPVRA’s efforts. I think education is our key thing. We educate the community, our elected officials, local businesses on the plight of veterans. Then we educate veterans on their rights, their benefits and how to go about receiving them. Then we pull it all together and somehow, it all works.
SCB: Are you proud that you are a do-er in this community and not a complainer?
Oh, I’m proud that I am a complainer (laughs). But I’m also one that looks to make partnerships with others in order to fix the problems. The EPVRA will not just present an issue, but we will work with our community to help fix it.
SCB: In a few years, when you’re not doing this to this extent, and you’re just riding with no agenda, what legacy will you be most proud of?
I’m not worried about that. My uncle is now a retired Priest and he tells me how God rewards good work. For whatever reason, God put me here to do this. And, for whatever reason, God has given patience to those who deal with me. I don’t care about a legacy. I’m here to do a job. When He says, ok, you can enjoy your retirement, I can look back and simply say, “I tried. It didn’t always go the way I wanted, but I tried.”
Ricky, you, Sun City Biker Magazine and Spotlight Magazine have all been great supports of the EPVRA and of El Paso’s Veterans and their families. You have been with me from the start and I appreciate you.
The El Paso VRA currently has about 15 members, almost all are either retired or currently active Army soldiers. Darrell Mond is the president of the El Paso chapter though the Ft. Bliss chapter will be it’s own chapter soon. The furthest member is currently stationed in Afghanistan.