Erika Meagher—a school teacher in Jacksonville, North Carolina—was up early getting ready for work in 2015 when her life changed forever. The news was on TV to fill the silence, mostly for her dogs. Her house felt empty without her fiancé, Staff Sgt. Marcus Bawol, a Marine assigned to Marine Special Operations Team 8231, 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, who was away on a training mission.
“There was a news report about seven Marines out of Camp Lejeune who were missing following a training exercise accident in Florida,” Meagher recalled. “I had a gut feeling … that it was him.”
The loss of Bawol and his Marine Raider teammates in that Blackhawk crash places them among the 201 Raiders and Recon Marines who have fallen while serving our country.
Meagher and several other Gold Star family members had the opportunity to honor the Marine special operations community on Sept. 9, 2023. They showed up to support a group of determined motorcyclists who convoyed from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, to Arlington, Virginia, and back for the inaugural Recon Raider Remembrance Ride.
The event raised funds for DAV and two nonprofits that support this elite community—the Marine Reconnaissance Foundation and Marine Raider Foundation. Each charity received nearly $8,000, and the bulk of those funds came from the tireless efforts of event organizer Keith Waldrop and his company, Asymmetric Solutions.
“Raiders and Reconnaissance Marines are not as well-known as some of your more ‘televised’ units like the Navy SEALs, Green Berets or Delta Force,” said Waldrop, a former Force Reconnaissance Marine and Raider. “They pride themselves on being quiet professionals, though in many cases, mission success means they had a tremendous amount of impact without the enemy ever knowing who was there.”
Waldrop, a DAV Patriot Boot Camp alum and CEO and co-founder of Asymmetric Solutions, was among the first to stand up the Marine Raider program for Marine Special Forces Command. He said the logistical and weather challenges the motorcycle convoy faced—including torrential rain for much of the ride—provided an opportunity to showcase the commitment the riders have for remembering the fallen.
“Failure is never an option. We would not quit. We would not accept defeat,” Waldrop said. “We would honor our creed and the sacrifices of our fallen.”
The ride included a stop at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Virginia, and nearby Quantico National Cemetery to visit the grave of Sgt. Charles Strong, a Marine Raider who was killed at age 28 in Afghanistan in 2014.
Strong’s mother and father, Mary and James, also braved the rain to meet with the riders along the route. Their son was killed in a “green on blue” incident involving Afghan soldiers who turned their weapons on the Marines training them. She said the ride brings her joy despite her sadness because it keeps her son alive through memory.
“It means my son will never be forgotten, as long as somebody remembers his name,” said Strong, whose older son Jason is a retired Raider who was nearby when his younger brother was killed. “And that’s for all of our nation’s fallen. As long as somebody says their name and honors them, they will never be forgotten.”
At her son’s graveside the following day, the riders did just that. After an impassioned speech about living and dying as warriors, Waldrop asked the riders to repeat Strong’s name out loud in a solemn moment as the rain continued to fall.
The group then rode north to Arlington National Cemetery where it circled the Marine Corps War Memorial before embarking on the long ride back to North Carolina for a final gathering at The Eagle’s Dare in Wilmington, North Carolina—a bar owned by vetrepreneur Joe Apkarian.
“The select few who finished did so with the sincerest intentions. They didn’t do it for a badge but to be a part of a brotherhood and to pay homage to the 201 Marine special operators who have died in wartime service,” Waldrop said.
For Erika Meagher, the ride was a chance to witness strangers who braved severe elements to honor and remember. It also was a fitting tribute to a man who would have been there on two wheels.
“If (Marcus) was here today, he would be a part of this event,” she said. “He would be getting on his motorcycle to honor and remember those who have gone before him.”