‘The Long Ride’

Published 5:37 pm Saturday, October 31, 2015

Bomb-suit tour supports EOD Foundation

When Suffolk resident and retired Virginia State Police bomb technician Bobby Klepper embarks on his cross-country motorcycle trip this morning, it won’t be just his 2001 Harley-Davidson Road King attracting attention.

Suffolk’s Bobby Klepper leaves today on a three-week fundraising motorcycle ride in support of the EOD Warrior Foundation. Klepper will be wearing a bomb suit for the duration of the ride to bring attention to the sacrifices made by bomb technicians.

Suffolk’s Bobby Klepper leaves today on a three-week fundraising motorcycle ride in support of the EOD Warrior Foundation. Klepper will be wearing a bomb suit for the duration of the ride to bring attention to the sacrifices made by bomb technicians.

The customized bike with its airbrushed scene of a fully kitted bomb disposal technician striding away from an explosion is a head-turner, and Klepper’s used to folks stopping to get photos of the motorcycle when he’s at restaurants and other stops.

But on his ride across America during the next couple of weeks, it is likely to be Klepper himself who attracts the attention, as he’ll be riding in a bomb suit.

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The fundraising ride in support of the EOD Warrior Foundation is Klepper’s way of honoring the many members of the explosive ordinance disposal community — living and dead — that he has known through the years.

“Being a bomb tech and having worked with the military so closely, I feel fortunate,” he said, noting that he still has all his fingers and toes, both eyes and all four limbs. Many people in that line of work are not so fortunate, he said, and he’s known and worked with some who have not returned from what bomb technicians call “The Long Walk” to investigate a suspicious device.

Bomb Suit Ride 2015, which he’s dubbed “The Long Ride,” is “my way of giving back to my brothers and sisters in the EOD community,” he said.

Klepper, 66, joined the Virginia State Police in 1966. In his 34 years with the law enforcement agency, he worked as a trooper, a bomb technician and on the dive team.

Since his retirement from the state police, he has helped train EOD technicians for the military and currently is a consultant for a company that sells equipment to the armed forces and police for their explosive ordinance disposal and chemical, biological, radiation and nuclear needs.

Bomb suits are among the products the company offers, and Klepper had the idea a while back that he could use one to help increase awareness of the men and women who do their dangerous and sometimes deadly work while wearing the suits.

“Actually, it was a bar-napkin idea,” he said from the driveway of his home in the close-knit Burnett’s Mill subdivision.

But soon after donning the Med-Eng Holdings bomb suit and straddling his motorcycle, it became clear that planning for a three-week ride across the country in such a bulky suit would be much more complicated than what could be accomplished on the back of a napkin.

“When I got on a bike with the full suit — well, if I’d gotten in a sticky situation ….”

In a nod toward safety, he took the Kevlar panels out of the suit, which reduced its weight from about 90 pounds to about 25 pounds. But even without the panels, the suit will be hot — “It’s kind of like wearing maybe two down jackets and two down pants, but it’s not a safety factor” — so he’ll also be carrying a special cooling system originally designed for NASCAR drivers.

“The joke is if I’d been in an accident in the full suit, I’d have been fine, but (the other vehicle) would have been like it had hit a moose.”

He’ll have support from others in the EOD community for the ride. Tim Pierce, a retired U.S. Navy EOD commander, will be driving a support truck and trailer branded with the “Long Ride” logos, and Virginia Beach bomb technician Donnie Campbell will ride along on another motorcycle.

The trio will leave from Virginia Beach after a breakfast event at iFly and lunch at GSS Gear on Laskin Road. From there, they’ll head to Richmond Harley-Davidson for a barbecue and then to Staunton for the night.

Along the way, they’ll stop in Knoxville, Tenn., and Nashville, where they’ll spend the night on the evening of the Country Music Awards. They’ll also participate in wreath-laying ceremonies in Huntsville, Ala., and at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida to honor bomb technicians.

The ride concludes in San Diego, where they will join EOD families, law enforcement officials and friends for a party at Strategic Operations, a company that offers realistic tactical training for the military.

They will be selling T-shirts and accepting donations along the way, both in person and through their Facebook page, Bomb Suit Ride 2015, which also lists a number of silent auction opportunities. Those who donate in person will have the opportunity to sign Klepper’s suit, which will be auctioned at the EOD Memorial Weekend in May at Eglin Air Force Base.

The memorial is an annual event held by the EOD Warrior Foundation, whose mission is “to improve the quality of life for the EOD family by providing emergency financial relief, scholarship opportunities, physical, social and emotional support,” according to a press release from the nonprofit organization.

“Any bomb technician that has been around for a few years has made that long walk,” Klepper said. Each time a bomb technician puts on his or her suit to make that walk, there’s a risk involved. “It’s always real, until it’s not.”