Local dealer honors Special Tactics fallen with custom bike

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Carly A. Costello
  • 24th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
A local motorcycle dealership is honoring the service and sacrifice of Air Force ground special operations forces by building a Special Tactics-themed motorcycle for the year’s Custom Kings Bike Build.

"This isn't about winning a competition; this is about honoring the legacy of Special Tactics Airmen who risk their lives every single day,” said Daniel “Gus” Gusoff, General Manager and Owner of Emerald Coast Harley-Davidson.

The bike will specifically memorialize Capt. Matthew Roland, a Special Tactics Officer assigned to 23 STS and was killed in action Aug. 26 while deployed to Afghanistan.

Named “Gunslinger” after Roland’s team motto, the bike will compete against more than 600 other custom-made Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The top 64 bikes will compete against each other via a voting process very much like the March Madness bracket system, with the winner announced in April. Voting is open to the public.

Roland served in multiple combat zones including Africa and Afghanistan, experiencing both peace-keeping missions and direct combat missions during his career as a STO, a battlefield ground commander who integrates air and ground assets in special operations.

"Special Tactics Airmen are currently deployed to very dangerous places around the world and the public is painfully unaware,” said Mark Roland, father of Roland, a retired Air Force officer. “The Special Tactics bike built by Emerald Coast Harley Davidson is a profound and visible symbol of the community's support. To us, this bike is the recognition of the Special Tactics warriors’ sacrifice. We know Matthew would approve that his guys are the focus of this support.”

While it is a friendly company competition, the employees of Emerald Coast Harley-Davidson are building this memorial bike as a tribute to the sacrifice and legacy of the Air Force's ground special operators. According to Gusoff, the team wanted the bike to be something the Emerald Coast community could relate to.

“We want to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice, including Capt. Matthew Roland, one of our Special Tactics Airmen who was recently killed in action,” Gusoff said. “Within a very short time, it was clear to me that the ST community and the Harley-Davidson community are very similar in our values and what's really important. Right at the top of the list is family and freedom, and the Gunslinger is a great representation of both."

After visiting the 23 STS for inspiration, the employees have spent 150 hours of their time on the memorial bike while maintaining business as usual. The motorcycle has unique features representative of the Special Tactics mission and community, including parachute rip cords as the brake and clutch levers and grenades as the blinkers.

Because Special Tactics Airmen are highly-qualified ground operators who train to deploy anywhere in any capacity, the Emerald Coast Harley-Davidson build team will also embed a military freefall jump wings, a Special Tactics flash, scuba bubble and Airborne Wings insignias into the frame. Most importantly, they will place the initials “MD” on the bike, representing Roland with his operator initials.

“The time and effort spent to honor Matt [Roland] in this way is a tremendous testament to the Emerald Coast community’s support of their military, and specifically the Special Tactics community,” said Chief Master Sgt. Don Stevens, 23rd Special Tactics Squadron Chief Enlisted Manager. “Accomplishing our mission is easier and even more gratifying with people like Gus and his team. They continue to support Special Tactics families while we do what our nation asks of us…and for that, we are all very grateful.”

The completed Special Tactics motorcycle will be unveiled Feb. 18 during an event open to the public at Emerald Coast Harley-Davidson from 6 to 8 p.m.