Rick Perry, former Texas governor and newly announced candidate for the 2016 Republican nomination for U.S. president, led the way Saturday as a band of motorcyclists rode in the Rick Perry Freedom Ride from Perry to Boone. The charity ride raised funds for the Puppy Jake Foundation, which supplies service dogs to disabled U.S. service personnel.
Once in Boone the riders joined a larger gathering, as U.S. Senator Joni Ernst was hosting seven GOP presidential candidates as part of her inaugural “Roast and Ride” fundraiser, an event she hopes will become a yearly fixture on the Iowa political landscape.
Joining Perry in the Spring Valley Ballroom of the Hotel Pattee in Perry were U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Mike Thornton and Taya Kyle, widow of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, subject of the 2014 movie, “American Sniper.” Also on hand were former Navy SEALs Marcus and Morgan Luttrell and Marcus’ wife, Melanie, along with Navy SEAL Pete Scobell and USMC Captain Dan Moran.
Before Perry took the stage, the large crowd on hand was treated to a three-song set by Scobell, including his former iTunes hit, “Hearts I Leave Behind,” written for Taya Kyle in memory of her husband. Scobell has performed the song in recent weeks with country music star Wynonna Judd.
Scobell spent 17 years in the Navy and was involved in the freeing of the U.S. cargo ship Maersk Alabama off the coast of Somalia in April of 2009. Three Somali pirates were killed by the SEAL team during the liberation of the ship, which was detailed in the 2013 movie “Captain Phillips.”
After a brief introduction from his wife, Anita, the former Texas governor waded through the crowd, stopping often to pose for photos and to shake hands.
Perry then invited his special guests on stage and spoke of each, beginning with Thornton, who won the highest honor accorded to an American — the Congressional Medal of Honor — for his actions in Vietnam.
The three SEALS were briefly introduced, including Marcus Luttrell, who was portrayed by Mark Wahlberg in the film “Last Survivor” detailing Luttrell’s experience in Afghanistan, for which he received the Navy Cross.
Much of Perry’s comments centered on his respect and admiration for American veterans and of his support for Puppy Jake Foundation, which pairs service dogs with disabled veterans.
The presidential hopeful appeared, also as a candidate, in the same room on the last night before the 2012 Iowa Caucuses.
As Saturday’s event was billed as non-political, Perry did not directly address his current run for president, expressing only his general desire to “Make America America again” and his hope that America would “return to a place of leadership” in international affairs.
Several photo opportunities followed his remarks, with the governor and key supporters grabbing a quick lunch before leaving for Boone on the Freedom Ride with Rick portion of the days events.