An Honorary Commander Fosters Community Relationships at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, NJ

By Ms. Betty Nylund Barr, Staff Writer

Without a doubt, Barb Borowiec understands the importance of motorcycle riders attending safety classes. At her Harley-Davidson, Inc. dealership near Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JBMDL) in New Jersey, she has offered state-certified motorcycle safety courses to members of the military, Veterans, and the nearby community for the past 14 years.

Borowiec’s love of motorcycles began when she was young. She bought her first Harley-Davidson motorcycle at age 20. A year later she found herself in need of a job, and she convinced the local Harley-Davidson, Inc. dealership to hire her. When the owners wanted to sell, Borowiec, her boyfriend, and another employee bought the business. “The owners wanted to sell it, and the three of us sold our motorcycles and begged our parents to take second mortgages on their homes,” Borowiec reminisced. She eventually bought out her two partners.

The dealership grew from a small enterprise with a staff of five into a 35,000-square-foot business, which consists of two buildings side by side, one exclusively for used motorcycles. Borowiec now has approximately 60 employees and sells 800 to 1,000 motorcycles a year! “We try to keep active duty military at JBMDL in mind,” she said. Her dealership not only caters to the military as customers, but she also hires many Veterans as employees.

Borowiec provides motorcycle safety classes on weekends and during the week. “We supply everything: the Harley [-Davidson] motorcycle, the helmet and rain gear if needed, the learning materials, and the instructor,” she said. “We put weekends aside specifically for active-duty military, or police officers, or firefighters, or all-women classes. We do that so people can take the course together.” After passing the written and skills exams, students qualify for a Class M license.

Together with nearly a dozen neighbors, Borowiec was made a Meritus Honorary Commander for JBMDL. Such an honor is typically bestowed on a civic leader in the community for a specific wing of the Air Force for a 1- or 2-year period. JBMDL, however, which includes all five branches of the military (Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard), jointly awarded the title for multiple years to honor this group of select recipients, who have been exceptional supporters of Veterans and the Joint Base.

What does being an honorary commander entail? “We support and learn,” explained Borowiec. “For me, I like to take it back to the public. When I was with the 621st [Contingency Response Wing, JBMDL], I would be sure to go to all their events. If they needed money for a Christmas event, we were there to support or donate.”

“We make sure we are there for awards, trivia night, retirements, and change-of-command ceremonies,” she continued. “As honorary commanders, we go tour the base—but to benefit them, just bringing the word back to the public if we have an event at the dealership.”

As an example, Borowiec described a dinner that the dealership held at a restaurant. They invited people from the base, including young Airmen and Marines who were new to the community. “They are leaving the base and coming to this dinner to meet the public, and we can say ‘Welcome!’ and ‘We are glad you are here. We are here if you need us, and we are here as a community. We know you are far from home, but this community has your back.’ That’s what I do as an honorary commander.”

The community clearly supports the military at JBMDL. “There is a gentleman in his 80s,” Borowiec related, “who takes lunch down to the base almost every Thursday to welcome those new to the base and let them know we care about them and their well-being.”

In May 2007, Borowiec organized an annual motorcycle ride with the military personnel at the Joint Base. “It starts at the dealership,” she said. “We ride up to the base, and they shut the flightline down for an hour. We ride our motorcycles down the flightline, [and] then we go have a barbecue and encourage all the folks to come with their families and eat with us so the motorcycle and military communities can interact on base.”

Borowiec pointed out that a considerable number of people who participate would not otherwise have access to the base except during open house when JBMDL holds an air show. She observed that some people who grew up riding with their parents in the early years are now riding their own motorcycles in the yearly event. Although the ride has developed into a fundraiser for the base, Borowiec said, “For me, it’s all about bringing the two communities together and getting out there and saying thank you. It’s become a great tradition and lets the base know we are thinking about them.”

Borowiec recounted a particularly heartwarming event held by the community. “We used to have a Thanksgiving dinner, and buses would come from the base. The troops didn’t know where they were going, and halfway down Route 95, they would be met by 100 motorcycles that would escort them to the dinner.” When the buses approached the restaurant, the sight that greeted them was so moving that they “would literally be in tears because we would have Boy Scout troops, Girl Scout troops, retirement communities, and citizens that lined the entrance down the hill to the restaurant with flags and signs,” recalled Borowiec. “A group would stay and feed them dinner. I would do motorcycle trivia and give away T-shirts, and Vince Papale [former Philadelphia Eagles football player and subject of the movie ‘Invincible’] would come and do football trivia. That was the biggest surprise because [the guests] didn’t know anything was going to happen, so some of them cried.”

From housing an Airman’s motorcycle while he or she is deployed to raising money for orange safety vests, Barb Borowiec represents a community that appreciates and supports the military—not only in words but also in deeds.