While stationed in Iraq, a Mahomet soldier dreamed up a superpatriotic motorcycle – and it'll be on TV tonight.
In fact, Illinois Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Richard Crawford's creation will be on two episodes of the "American Chopper" show featuring the Orange County Chopper family, premiering at 8 p.m. on The Learning Channel.
Crawford will gather with his wife, Carolyn, family, friends and fellow soldiers at Hideaway of the Woods, 809 S. Prairie View Road, Mahomet, to watch the first episode featuring his Patriot Chopper. The doors will open at 7 p.m.
A second-episode party will be held at 8 p.m. Jan. 24 at Hideaway of the Woods. Party-goers are encouraged to wear chopper or military clothing.
Crawford, whose home base is in Paris, was deployed with the Mattoon-based Company A, 634th Brigade Support Battalion when he read about the Orange County Chopper design competition in the Stars and Stripes newspaper.
Crawford, 32, graduated from Hoopeston-East Lynn High School and always enjoyed working on cars.
"I would have had a motorcycle (in high school), but I couldn't afford it," he said.
He joined the Guard in 1993. He works full time as a mechanic, including repairing vehicles at Urbana's National Guard Armory.
Crawford found he had some free time "hiding from the sun" in Iraq to let his imagination roam.
"That was different," he said succinctly. "The soldiers in my particular area were alone a lot, with a lot of time to themselves."
From his first week there, Crawford began thinking about the perfect bike.
When he read about the essay contest, he knew he wanted to be on "American Chopper," a reality TV show that debuted in September 2002, featuring the antics and expertise of the Teutul family of New York mechanics.
"I started the project in July and turned in my entry on the very last day possible, July 31,"Crawford said. "It was a challenge; there was a nine-hour time difference and it was already the 31st in Iraq."
He submitted his work to the National Guard Bureau, which narrowed more than 500 essays down to about 50 semifinalists. The final design winners were selected by Orange County Chopper.
The sergeant did most of the work online.
"You have to draw a motorcycle with your interpretation, a theme, then write a 250-word essay on your theme," he said. "My theme was the Guard, basically focusing on representing soldiers from the past, the present and the future. The soldier is an individual in all those times."
The work is futuristic but is also composed from the past, literally – military scrap metal. The present is represented by equipment actual soldiers use.
"OCC locks and loads as they pay tribute to the troops with a custom bike for the Army National Guard" reads the "American Chopper" episode guide.
Crawford's winning essay
As part of the contest he read about in the Stars and Stripes newspaper, National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Richard Crawford had to submit an drawing of a motorcycle design along with a 250-word essay describing its theme. He entered it from Iraq on the last day possible and was chosen winner from a field of more than 500. Here are his winning words:
"I've been thinking of this project as a way of displaying the past, present and future of the (National Guard).
"Typically builders start with a frame. I believe we should start with less. Why not use decommissioned military equipment? Recycle this equipment down to its original form (sheet metal), then build. This process will represent the past. The seat will also be covered in old canvas, which we just need to clean.
"The present will be represented by items soldiers commonly use in the field. Surefire-brand flashlights are popular. I believe two or three Surefire Hellfire lights should do the trick nicely. Oakley sunglasses are a big hit because they're affordable, come in a variety of colors and are ballistic. This is going to be implemented in the paint scheme. The wheels will have the letters ARMY NATIONAL GUARD 'milled out' so everyone knows who's coming.
"Lastly, the future element – this will be done by the overall look of the bike. Physically big, tough, and ready for anything. ... Army Strong ... HOOAH!"