With All Their Heart

Stories by Mitchell Krugel, Esther Gonzales, Dan Campana and Brittany Krugel

Photos by Ed Carattini Jr.

Nearly 1,800 riders who had just put their heart and soul into the 2023 Police Unity Tour gathered at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial for the post-Tour ceremony. They made it more than 300 miles through four days, endured the emotional finish with thousands cheering for them and remembered the fallen alongside family members and other survivors.

And for that, Unity Tour Founder Pat Montuore stood up at the ceremony and praised the effort like only he can.

“I see honor, commitment and sacrifice not only here today, but for the last four days from each and every one of you who rode, who were part of support, a medical team or any facet of this organization, to make it possible,” he declared. “Every single one of you has demonstrated what the definition of honor is.”

The ceremony progressed with several dignitaries stepping up to thank riders for their commitment. NJ State PBA President Pat Colligan added to the honor by presenting the $25,000 donation to Montuore and Unity Tour Executive Directory Harry Phillips like it had for the past 28 years.

Then, Montuore stepped up with one final thank-you note:

“With this I’d like to say, my heart goes out to each and every one of you. I love you. I respect you.”

A family that rides together

Gloucester County Local 122

One by one, Gloucester County Local 122 members parked their bikes on the grass across the street from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. They had finally completed the Unity Tour — perhaps with a little help from their guardian angel, Bobby Shisler, whose photo was tied securely to the back of each of their bikes.

And perhaps with the weight of this recent loss of the Deptford Township officer on his mind, Local 122 member Josh Fennimore, an officer in Franklin Township, tried to explain his emotions. Just after parking his bike, Fennimore was embraced by his two daughters, who ran into his arms.

And he submitted that the encouragement from his two biggest fans, and even the crowd of thousands of other family members and supporters, was simply unbelievable.

“I held back tears the whole time,” Fennimore said of the moment he arrived at the Memorial. “Knowing that the guys that aren’t with us anymore would give anything to be here, to be able to ride. There’s no giving up on this.”

Riding in the Unity Tour for the first time, Franklin Township Police Department Officer and Local 122 member Dylan Colclough noted he also rode in honor of Franklin Township Officer Lee Gonzalez, who was lost in the line of duty in 1995. And in honor of his cousin, Steven Cosmo, who was on the job with the Burlington Township Police Department and passed away on May 8, 2022.

“This ride was so meaningful. And it’s something that you’ll never feel, probably, until you do it again, because it was just absolutely amazing,” Colclough said. “Any way you can push your body for these guys that have paid the ultimate sacrifice is the best thing you can do for them.”

Along their journey, Local 122 members were joined by family members of the fallen officers they rode for. Including the wife and daughter of fallen West Deptford Officer Kenneth Dechen, who was lost in the line of duty in 2000, and Gonzalez’s nephew, who joins the team every year.

And riding with them was an indescribable feeling for West Deptford Police Department officer and Local 122 member William Reichert.

“I can’t even put words on it,” Reichert expressed. “The feelings we share with them throughout the week is like nothing I’ve ever experienced.”

Daddy did it

West New York Local 361 

Through the miles, the heat, the hills and the pain of his first Unity Tour, West New York Local 361 member Carlos Henriquez kept hearing a voice pushing him forward.

“Daddy, you’ve got to finish.”

“I was thinking about that the whole time,” Henriquez related. “I don’t want to let my daughter down.”

Eight-year-old Celeste Henriquez might not have known just how much of a boost her daddy needed. Carlos was not supposed to ride the Tour this year. But when a fellow Local 361 member was in a car accident and had to back out, he stepped up at the last minute.

Despite no training, Henriquez did not get left behind on his first ride in 15 years on the job.

“It was tough, I kept up in the front,” he detailed. “With it being the first time, it was like, ‘I don’t want to let the department down.’ I want to make sure I’m able to finish it, because I’ll take the challenge.”

Henriquez had no idea what was waiting for him on the road to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. But when he did come to the end and rode into the Memorial, he heard the voices of thousands of voices cheering for him.

“Oh my God, it’s overwhelming. I started crying,” Henriquez admitted. “It’s an amazing feeling. You see all the families, the survivors of the people that passed away, and it’s an unforgettable experience.”

Of course, the first person Henriquez wanted to share this moment with was Celeste. He send her a video so she could see it when she got out of school that afternoon. There may never been a better finish to the Tour than that.

The pure joy

Mendham Township Local 402 

Across the tough, long stretches of the Unity Tour, Mendham Township Local 402 member Matt Amvrosi felt the strength and support of the entire department keeping him going.

That’s not as much of an overstatement as it might sound, because five of the Mendham Township Police Department’s 15 officers teamed up to take on the tour’s challenge.

“This is an unbelievable feeling. I get to do it with four of my closest friends and coworkers … four of the best guys I could ask to ride this for,” said Amvrosi, a 15-year veteran who completed his second tour. “Them pushing me, me pushing them, telling each other not to give up, that we can do it.”

Mendham’s team rode in honor of Officer Tyrell Owens Riley of Columbia, South Carolina, who died in the line of duty in 2022. Amvrosi added that the spirit of officers such as Riley proved to be the biggest motivation to navigate the sometimes grueling challenge of riding hundreds of miles.

“Getting here for those who lost their lives, making sure we finish this journey for them. They’re there with us doing those 300 miles,” explained Amvrosi, who showed the bracelet bearing the officer’s name that he wore the entire ride.

The destination, as well as the journey, carried a lot of meaning to Amvrosi, he shared, because of the support shown to riders on the route and the powerful conclusion of it all at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

“No matter what neighborhood you’re going through, somebody’s out there cheering you on, wishing you luck, telling you they got our backs. That’s a lot of things I don’t think people actually see out there or even understand — more people have our backs than don’t,” he offered. “At 300 miles, my legs are dead, but [there’s] just the pure joy getting here. And you feel the power of the people there, the survivors, the supporters. It’s a feeling you can’t describe. It has to be done for yourself to understand it.”

Group dynamics

Team Monmouth County 

Fair Haven?


Bradley Beach?




As members mustered in the post-Tour gathering area near the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, a meeting of the Monmouth County Conference of PBA Locals could have been breaking out.

Team Monmouth County included 45 riders and support members representing at least 15 Locals. They came from across the county to join the team, and they were a Tour de Force.

“The camaraderie, the laughs, the fun, seeing this atmosphere, it’s incredible,” declared Fair Haven Local 184 member John Waltz, who made his ninth Tour this year and served as team leader. “It’s a little trying at times with the number of people we have, but it’s fun to get here when we get here.”

Rumson Local 345 member Stephanie Lehner made her third ride in four years on the job. Her chief had done the Tour for a number of years, and his passion for the ride made Lehner want to give it a try.

“When he told me he wasn’t doing it, I said, ‘I’m taking your spot,’” she explained. “It’s awesome that we have a lot of smaller shore towns that all work together and all come together for a bigger cause.”

Lehner said hearing the sound of the bagpipes playing and listening to stories from survivors inspire her to make the ride each year, as well as serve with the honor guard that escorts family members of fallen officers at the Candlelight Vigil. And that keeps her going for more than just the 300 miles of the Unity Tour.

“This makes it all worth it,” she stated. “All the long shifts and stuff like that, us pulling in here today to the Memorial made it worth it.”

Bradley Beach Local 50 member Anthony Badalamenti made his first ride in his fourth year on the job. He had heard many members talk about the ride and wanted to see for himself what it was like.

“Breathtaking,” Badalamenti commented. “It’s like were a big family.”

When he arrived at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial with the rest of the Monmouth family, he witnessed why it was so breathtaking.

All about the team

Union County Sheriff’s Officers Local 108 

Union County Sheriff’s Officers Local 108 member David Krill had done the Unity Tour before. But participating this year as part of the first-ever team from Local 108, he was even more inspired by how the camaraderie of the Tour strengthens the brotherhood.

“This is the first time we’ve had a team, and it’s just a completely different experience,” Krill explained. “It’s something that I think we’re all proud to be part of, and we hope that it builds a movement for our whole department to want to do it and get involved. Because for everybody that’s been involved in this, it’s one of the most amazing experiences of our career.”

Along the ride, Krill heard shouts of encouragement from his Local 108 members riding with him. And they always had one thing to say.

“When we’re riding and you see each other along the way, somebody shouts, ‘Come on, keep going,’” Krill described. “There’s no breaking when you have the guys with you like that, there really isn’t. Everybody just toughs it out.”

Local 108 members also experienced the overwhelming power of riding into the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial with thousands of family members and supporters cheering.

And Krill added that that was the moment that made the aches and pains of every mile worth it.

“You don’t have that feeling anywhere else,” Krill expressed. “It’s a lot of camaraderie built along the way, and all the miles are worth it to go through that loop with the families there. It gives you chills. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. It’s like the Super Bowl for us.”

After successfully completing the Police Unity Tour, Local 108 members already began preparing to ride again in 2024 and maybe bring in a few more members to join their team.

“Everybody’s already talking about next year,” Krill added. “You can’t go through this experience and not really appreciate it.”

Trailer Hitching

Tri-County Riders of NJ

When it comes to well-oiled machines doing the Police Unity Tour, it might be hard to beat the Tri-County Riders team, which brings together riders and support-crew members from departments in Middlesex, Somerset and Morris counties.

What started a few years ago as a gaggle of individual riders looking to team up has grown into a force of its own, complete with an elaborate trailer that keeps everyone going on the road and during stops along the Tour’s several-hundred-mile journey.

“When you’re [doing the Tour], having your own team with your own trailer and all your own resources, it makes a big difference on the ride. It makes the ride a lot easier,” said Joe Dudley, State
Delegate for Dunellen Local 146. “The smaller agencies…there was a handful of them that were all in at the ground floor. They had one, maybe two riders, but they didn’t have enough to people to make their own team.”

In additional to Dunellen, Locals that participated in starting the Tri-County team include Branchburg Police Local 397, Somerville Local 147, Somerset County Sheriffs Local 272, Bernardsville Local 365 and North Plainfield Local 85. Local 147 State Delegate Vittorio Spadea, Rob Stober from Branchburg, Shannon Snook from Somerset County Sheriffs, Tim Richards from Bernardsville, Mark Constantino from North Plainfield and Tim Franks from Somerville were among the first riders from Tri-County, along with Dudley.

Sidelined by a knee injury, Dudley last rode the tour in 2019, but he has played an important role by driving the truck that pulls the decked-out trailer bought and outfitted solely through fundraising by team members. Spadea, who is also battling a knee injury, also served as part of the support team.

Although it was built for the Tri-County team, the trailer is a welcoming place for any rider that crosses paths with it.

“We tend to be picking up people from all over the country now,” Dudley said, continuing with a story about meeting a sheriff’s officer from Oregon along the ride one year. “He was riding by himself, passing by the trailer, and jokingly says, ‘Hey, you got an extra drink for me?’ And we’re like, ‘Yeah, come on in.’ This guy ended up hooking up with us for the rest of the tour. Everywhere we went in D.C., he was with us.”

The mission of the Tri-County Riders is to provide a place and an opportunity for everybody to take the Tour. Dunellen member Mike Lowder is a new rider this year who was motivated to do the Tour by Tri-County’s passion.

“That’s the whole idea behind the Tour,” Dudley stated. “Maps and miles separate us, but unity is the tie that binds,” Dudley shared.

One mile at a time

Paterson Local 1 

Town after town, mile after mile, Paterson Local 1 member Irsi Velez noticed there was no end to the overwhelming recognition for the riders in the Police Unity Tour. Rolling past elementary schools, hundreds of children applauded and cheered for officers, including more than a dozen from Local 1.

And the encouragement didn’t end there. Countless law enforcement officers and first responders from the various police departments and fire departments, which the riders passed on their journey, joined in the cheers for the Tour.

Such recognition was something Velez had never truly experienced in this way before.

“We had so much support in the entirety of the trip. It was amazing,” Velez described. “I think most officers know that the majority of people do support law enforcement, but it’s beautiful when we actually see it.”

Hearing all the well-wishes along the four-day ride became a source of motivation for Velez, who was riding in the Unity Tour for the first time. As she saw firsthand that there are people who support law enforcement, she felt inspired to continue serving.

“It’s motivation,” Velez added. “And it reminds us that even though there are things that try to jade our image as a whole, the totality of it is that there’s a lot of support for what we do.”

By the end of the Tour, when Local 1 members rode into the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, the amount of recognition, encouragement and applause seemed to triple. And reiterate that feeling of support that Velez felt along the way.

“When you get to the end and you get to that Memorial, it is all worth it,” Velez added. “The aches, the pains, the sweat — it’s worth it.”

Bond of Brothers

Perth Amboy Local 13 

Woodbridge Local 38 

It takes a veteran rider of the Police Unity Tour to know what’s really at stake. Perth Amboy Local 13 member David Guzmán knows that inspiration, as one of the longtime riders from his department who just completed his ninth Tour.

Guzmán is not only leading the way for Local 13, but also for Woodbridge Local 38 member Pat Harris, who rode with sisters and brothers from Perth Amboy. Harris noted how the relationship with Perth Amboy helped him during his first ride.

“They’ve been awesome,” Harris submitted. “I mean, I’ve had a good relationship with Sergeant Guzmán for a very long time, and they helped me get through it. Otherwise, I don’t know if I would’ve made it.”

Guzmán took Harris in not only to help remember the fallen but to add to the brotherhood for riders.

“You know what, it creates a bond as a brotherhood, and the meaning behind it,” Guzmán commented. “It’s the overall meaning behind those officers that have experienced the ride themselves and are not here today.”

Guzmán emphasized how the ride continues the tribute to three Local 13 members who have been lost in the line of duty: Lieutenant David Formeza, Officer Thomas Raji and Officer Arcadio Rivera Jr.

“Whatever obstacles we face along the journey, it’s meaningless compared to the sacrifice that they made for us,” Guzmán stated.

It all culminates when the ride ends at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. That part of the journey enabled Harris to experience a part of the ride that keeps participants going:

“Just meeting some of the survivors,” he said. “It’s about the families and knowing that we’re thinking about them.”

Leading the Way

NJ Transit Local 304 

Nobody may know that happiness is truly a way of traveling and not a destination better than members of NJ Transit Local 304. They are all about how to get there safely and happy, and that was the case with a big contingent of members once again riding the Unity Tour.

Like many other teams, Local 304 has an array of riders with different levels of experience riding the Unity Tour. Officer Jonathan Ydo is brand new to the ride, and he found out quickly what the Tour is all about.

“You push a bunch of miles, and your legs blow out a little bit. But it’s a good time. It was a great experience,” Ydo explained.

Officer Glenn Iannaco is in his fifth year of riding the Unity Tour, and by now he knows that the strength of the tour is in numbers.

“Being there and then seeing these sheer number of riders that are out here with this purpose, supporting them and letting them know that their family is not forgotten, that’s what matters,” he said.

For Iannaco, the emotions of the tour come to a head when he rides into the Memorial taking in every smile, laugh, tear and sound of the pipes and drums playing.

“All the sacrifices they have to make in their personal lives, just goes straight through me every time,” he added.

Local 304 member Tim Yuskaitis has been riding the Unity Tour for seven years, and there’s no stopping him from coming back time and again.

“I feel like it’s almost like an obligation at this point,” he said. “Because you ride with fellow police officers, survivors from all over the country, all over the world sometimes. And every year, the bonds just get stronger and stronger.”

When you try to obtain happiness, you have to remember it’s about the mode of transportation. It’s safe to say that that’s what keeps Local 304 coming back every year for the sole purpose. As Iannaco puts it:

“I look around, and I don’t see negatives. I see a bunch of cops, I see a bunch of brothers and sisters who are here for the right reasons. And that’s what matters.”

It’s not where you start…

Ocean County Sheriff’s Department Local 379

Trying to catch her breath after just finishing the emotional ride through the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial to culminate the Unity Tour, Ocean County Sheriff’s Department Local 379 member Heather Minor considered the question about the best part of this magnificent event.

“The end,” Minor quipped.

Apparently, the physical toll of riding hundreds of miles didn’t wipe out Minor’s sense of humor.

Taking part in her fourth Unity Tour, Minor sees the ride’s physical challenges as a natural way to honor and pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“To not let those who have gone before us be forgotten. And to have support for those that they left behind, including coworkers, family members, children,” Minor, who has been with Ocean County for seven years, explained. “Seeing everybody, and it all just comes together. All the hard days are worth it.”

During the tough moments on those hard days, Minor kept pushing forward by keeping everything in perspective.

“It could be so much worse. The sun’s shining. I have legs that can get me up a hill. I have a family that’s supportive. That’s what keeps me going,” she said, adding that the bigger picture brings it into even stronger focus. “When you think that maybe everybody doesn’t like us, you see the streets lined with people who do, and it makes it all worth it.”

A memorable Mother’s Day gift

Margate Local 65

Hamilton Township Local 66

Beyond the thousands of fans cheering for the riders as they entered the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, Margate Local 65 member Jennifer Pullman found two faces in particular that stood out in the crowd. Her daughters smiled widely as Pullman embraced them.

Pullman, who has participated in the Police Unity Tour for seven years now, expressed that this was the first time her youngest daughter has experienced National Police Week. And holding her daughters in her arms was perhaps the kind of Mother’s Day gift not many would forget.

“It’s amazing to have them here,” Pullman said. “It’s a beautiful Mother’s Day present. It puts tears in my eyes, honestly.”

After riding into the Memorial, Pullman reflected on what she loves most about the experience, what has kept her coming back year after year.

“Rolling into the wall and doing this for the fallen,” Pullman explained. “Everything about the ride pushes you to your limits and you know you can’t stop. You tell yourself, ‘Don’t stop, don’t stop.’”

Pullman rolled into the Memorial with her friends, Hamilton Township Local 66 members Chris Mandela and Nicole O’Dell. Together, they had ridden to honor the memory of fallen Deptford Township Officer Bobby Shisler, whose was lost on May 7, and Richmond, Indiana K-9 Officer Seara Burton, whose end of watch was Sept. 18, 2022.

That certainly lent some additional perspective to the impact of making the ride and why Pullman continues to participate.

“Just the experience of rolling in and doing this for the fallen, it’s very stressful to ride,” she described. “You’re in everything about it. It pushes you to your limits. And you know you can’t stop. You’re like, ‘don’t stop, don’t stop.’ And you know why you’re doing it. You’re doing it for them, because they’re not here anymore.”

Getting from there to here

Ewing Township Local 111

The last day of the Unity Tour compelled Ewing Township Local 111 member Jeremie McCall to gut it out to the finish line.

The last hills leading into RFK Stadium where all riders gathered to ride the last few miles to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial required every ounce of energy left from the previous three days. And for first-time riders like McCall, there’s no way to prepare for what it’s like to pedal into the Memorial.

But this is what it takes to get there, to make the Tour.

“I’ve been wanting to do it for the past couple of years. I’ve been saying I’m going to do it, and then I finally was just like, ‘Oh, I’m going to do it this year,’” explained McCall, who joined the vast Local 111 contingent that always shows out for the ride. “It was tough. We really have a great group of riders. They all push you to be all and motivate each other.”

Among the riders helping to push Local 111 to the finish line was Chris Boller, a past Ewing Township State Delegate, making yet another ride. He provided yet another example of what PBA members will do to get there.

He first started riding the Tour after an FBI agent he was assigned to work with on a task force working a series of bank robberies was killed during a shootout with some of those violent criminals. Since Special Agent Barry Lee Bush was killed in 2007, Boller said he has made it a personal commitment to do the Tour every year.

“Every year there’s the will, the desire to do it,” he added. “And everybody comes together to support the cause.”

Boller has also tried to encourage as many Local members as possible to participate each year and experience what McCall did this year.

“Oh man, that was amazing. Like, breathtaking,” McCall stated once he was able to catch his breath following the ride. “This is one thing I can honestly say makes it worth everything. Everything we go through, everything we do. This is a positive thing when it comes to people cheering us on and making sure we’re all good.”

Worth the Tears

Federal Agents Local 121

After riding the Unity Tour for the seventh time, Robert Cacioli of Federal Agents Local 121 paused to compose himself.

The emotion of the moment had caught up to him.

“It just hits you hard,” Cacioli said. “As you turn into the Memorial, it’s a little bit cliché, but it gets you in the feels. I wanted to get through the Memorial as quick as I could. I didn’t want anybody seeing me cry.”

The undeniable weight of the Tour’s conclusion is shared by many as riders are greeted by cheering onlookers and a pipe-and-drums soundtrack at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. And the accomplishment and the celebratory conclusion left Cacioli “exhausted and elated.”

Cacioli was part of a 26-person team representing local, state and federal agencies that grew from two brothers — one from Maplewood Local 44 and the other from State Corrections Local 105 — who started inviting their friends to join in. Those friends brought their friends and so on and so on, leading to the formidable team of not just riders, but also plenty of supporters as well.

Cacioli rode in honor of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer Cody Olafson, who died in a training accident in May 2022. Although each rider carries their own personal connection to the Tour’s mission to recognize the fallen, the collective presence of riders, support staff and fans shows the deep appreciation for all law enforcement officers, according to Cacioli.

“It really is an amazing feeling to see this many people who all have a common reason to be in one place at one time,” he said. “All the support … on the route is really the amazing part. You see people who, under normal circumstances, don’t really like the police that much. They’re even cheering, and you know it’s a special moment.”

The feeling that keeps you coming back

Burlington County Prosecutors Office Local 320 

Following the tears and cheers that come with the Unity Tour’s cathartic conclusion into the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, riders have a moment to finally catch their breath. In a shady cove just off the Memorial, Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office Local 320 member Melyssa Alonso joined others members of the Local team in enjoying one of the greatest experiences she has ever had.


Alonso made her first Tour in 2022. And it just takes one time to get hooked.

“It’s just an amazing experience,” Alonso gushed. “We do it for, obviously, the families and the survivors. It’s more than just us.”

Being part of a team making the ride is a big part of being able to endure the four days and 300-plus miles of the Tour. Alonso shared how that makes it easier to keep going on the road to Washington, D.C.

“We motivate each other every day,” she confirmed. “Even when you’re tired, you know that you’re doing this for a bigger reason. It’s a team effort, and we have each other’s backs.”

A bigger reason to ride, though, is to support the family members and friend who have had to say goodbye to their loved ones who were killed in the line of duty.

“Whether it’s just every day or on the road or something bigger, ultimately it’s for the families, the brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, moms and dads,” added Alonso, who has been on with the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office for three years.

You could ask why Alonso and others take this ride so personally. But the more obvious question would be: how could they not make it personal? It’s their duty to be there for each other on the job, off duty, and even under the most tragic circumstances.

“Yeah, it’s phenomenal,” Alonso commented. “It’s one of the greatest experiences that I’ve ever had.”

How to keep going and going and going and…

Bridgewater Local 174 

Riding hundreds of miles over rolling hills and steep inclines with the Police Unity Tour, retired Bridgewater Local 174 member Scott Hobbs found a way to keep going, even when his legs were tired.

He looked down at the bracelet on his wrist and remembered who he was riding for: Sergeant Nicholas Tullier of the East Baton Rouge Police Department and Kaitlin Cowley of the Louisiana Department of Corrections, who was originally from Bridgewater.

“Looking down at the name of the person that you’re riding for, you know they’d give anything to be out here doing this,” Hobbs said. “The least I can do is ride and make it. So when I get a little tired, I look down at the bracelet. And I just think, ‘OK, you can do this.’”

Hobbs was inspired by 9/11 to make his first Unity Tour 22 years ago. And he still remembers how the powerful essence of the Unity Tour drew him in.

“I did one year, then I said, ‘Well I did the one year, let me come back and do another year,’” Hobbs recalled. “I had a good time. Then I was at three years, and I’m like, ‘Well, now I might as well get to five.’ Then I just kept going.”

Hobbs was so impacted by the Unity Tour that his involvement did not end when he retired in 2018. He became a member of the National Board of Directions for the Police Unity Tour. And he expressed that each year is just as impactful as the last, especially when he sees hundreds of law enforcement officers from across the country.

“This is the biggest family reunion,” Hobbs added. “It brings emotion, completion, satisfaction and pride that we are remembering the fallen and the people that appreciate us for doing what we do. And we are acknowledging and telling the survivors that we’ll never forget their loved ones.”

The Ultimate Blessing

Hudson County Corrections Local 109 

As a law enforcement officer, it’s a blessing to come home at the end of the tour. And for a Hudson County Corrections Local 109 member, it was a blessing to complete the Tour again.

Officer Wilson Rios from Local 109 described riding the Unity Tour just that way. And after arriving at the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial, he gave the ride his blessing.

In his third year of making the Tour, he’s not only become a resemblance of faith for the living — he’s working to never let people forget Local 109’s fallen.

“First of all, in our department we ride for our officers,” Rios stated. That includes Officer Zeb Craig, Officer Sean Williams and Officer Bernard Wadell Sr.

When you’re riding for miles on end, you may not think of the Unity Tour’s journey itself as a blessing. But Rios would disagree with you.

“We don’t have to do it. We get to do it because those who we represent don’t get to do it anymore,” Rios added. “So we come together as a team, and we work together.”

The real blessing is the final stretch of the Tour, when officers ride into the Memorial after four days of endurance and dedication. The 300-mile journey may be over, but the overwhelming sense of something missing still remains.

“It’s a bittersweet feeling because at the end of the day, you’re doing [it], you come in,” Rios explained. “However, as you’re coming in, you’re remembering the fact that today we work together to remember and honor them, but tomorrow we never know. It could be us.”

Riding for Ralph

Passaic City Local 14 

Passaic Officer Roberto Oquendo knows that beneath the fanfare and physical accomplishment of finishing the Police Unity Tour, the deeper meaning can’t be overlooked.

“It’s bittersweet, because riding for somebody means that someone has passed,” said Oquendo, of Passaic City Local 14.

In Local 14’s case, they were riding for Passaic Lieutenant Ralph Merced, who passed away in 2022.

“You wish that [he] was here, because he used to ride in the past with us all the time. He’s done it. He’s completed it multiple times, which gives us the legs to also do the same thing,” added Oquendo, who has now finished the Tour four times himself.

Oquendo marveled at the sheer number of officers from across the country and around the world who made the Tour this year — law enforcement peers doing the same job in different cities and towns coming together for one honorable purpose.

He also noted the obvious team spirit that wasn’t limited by jurisdiction or regionality.

“Just everybody helping each other out,” Oquendo mentioned as a memory from this year’s ride. “When someone is struggling, there’s either mental, physical or verbal pushes to get somebody through. The intent is all finish together. Start together, finish together.”

With that kind of support, Oquendo knows he’ll be back to ride again with the Local 14 team next year and in the years to come. He also knows his mind will zero in, even among the pomp and celebration, on what matters most through it all: the fallen officers and those they leave behind.

“It’s very intense,” he emphasized. “As much as there are a lot of people around, you zone out because, for me, it’s reflecting back constantly on why we’re here.”