He said he often thinks of the parents of the children receiving bikes.
"I think of the dads walking down a dusty trail in Afghanistan, hoping not to get picked off by a sniper," he said. "Or of moms, not on the front line, but maybe driving a truck and hoping not to run over an IED. They're doing it because they want to be there, but they're also doing it for everybody in the United States."
For more than an hour Saturday, 10-year-old Jason, 7-year-old Gabriel and 5-year-old Briana Cassim excitedly rode their new bikes around the donation area parking lot. Their father, Vandenberg Tech. Sgt. Shawn Cassim, is serving in Qatar, in the Middle East, for the next six months. Their mother, Veronica, surprised the children Saturday with the news of the gifts, and took a video to send to her deployed husband.
"This is overwhelming," said Mrs. Cassim, whose husband has deployed five times in their 11 years of marriage. "We've been overseas for eight years and I've never seen this kind of support for soldiers. My heart is overjoyed to see all this."
Jason, a 5th grader at Crestview Elementary School, deemed his new black Viper bike "cool."
"I have a bike but it's really hard to ride," he explained. "The chain is all old and rusty."
Disabled veteran Jim Daniels of Desert Hot Springs smiles as he tries out a custom- made bicycle.
The effort has grown steadily since its first giveaway of 12 bikes, helped by word of mouth, pleas to friends and family from club members and even an airwave boost from radio personality Dr. Laura Schlessinger.
The first year of the bike giveaway, the bikers were able to raise funds for 12 bikes. That jumped to 70 by 2008, and this year, the goal was 100, which was surpassed by a few.
A number of organizations and individuals donated multiple bikes and helmets, which cost about $175 for each child. The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians donated 12 bikes and Dr. Rob Holdsambeck purchased 10 bikes. The third graders at Crestview Elementary School at Vandenberg purchased seven bikes and helmets as part of a philanthropic project.
Dr. Schlessinger chatted for more than a week to her millions of listeners about the Village Dirtbag efforts, Mr. McConnell said. She also promoted it on her web site, helping raise funds.
"Families of deployed military are suffering terrible loss of their family member — for sometimes a year and a half — as well as the fears that go along with a loved one in harm's way," she wrote in an e-mail to the News- Press. "The military stand between us and tyranny and terrorist attacks. Because of what the families have to deal with, they are warriors also. One powerful way to show our military folks that we are in profound awe of their willingness to serve and take the risks for us all is to take care of their families. And the sure fire way to the hearts of military folks is to make their children feel special. These bikes do just that. I love this program and intend to stay with them Christmases to come."
The custom bikes for veterans were created by Lightning Cycle Dynamics in Lompoc. The bicycles, which cost about $2,000 each, are recumbent and propelled by hand pedals. The donation to the Veterans Administration Loma Linda Healthcare Systems was facilitated by Lompoc Dr. Michael Gill, a Village Dirtbag member.
The decision to expand the bike-giveaway came as many ideas do with the Dirtbags — they were sitting