Nothing is more Iowa than enjoying a hog roast and a motorcycle ride, and supporting our veterans. That’s why my annual Roast & Ride has become a favorite Iowa tradition! It’s a chance for folks to admire our state’s beautiful landscape, enjoy delicious BBQ, and hear from top conservative leaders.

Here in Iowa, we love our veterans, and as a combat veteran myself, I try to find unique ways to honor and support these heroes. That’s one reason why we added a ruck march to our day of activities this year. A ruck march is a common military training exercise where you carry a weighted pack — better known as a ruck sack — and walk in honor of the fallen and all of our servicemembers and veterans. Despite our early morning start time, veterans, servicemembers, and civilians alike came out to participate in the ruck and, most importantly, to honor Cpl. Daegan William-Tyeler Page. Daegan was a young man who grew up in my home community in southwest Iowa and southeast Nebraska. Last year, on August 26, 2021, along with 12 other U.S. servicemembers, Daegan was killed in Kabul, Afghanistan during America’s haphazard withdrawal. After his passing, Cpl. Page’s family set up a foundation to honor his life, to carry on the “Dae Way,” and to help veterans and their families.

This year’s ruck and our annual motorcycle ride were a tribute to Daegan’s life, his service, and his ultimate sacrifice. The beautiful October day brought bikers from all corners of the state, including many veterans donned in leather jackets displaying patches from their service. I even had the privilege of meeting a World War II veteran who joined us on the ride! Despite the decades between this gentleman’s service and Daegan’s sacrifice, he was still committed to honoring his fellow hero.

As we arrived at the state fairgrounds, we were greeted by an audience cheering and waving American flags. It’s that same patriotism that brought out a packed crowd for our roast.

One of the best parts of Roast & Ride each year is the community it brings together. Folks who care about our nation’s future and want to fight to keep the American Dream alive. We were privileged to hear from some incredible speakers who are leading this fight, including my good friend, and former White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders; the best Governor in the country, Kim Reynolds; my mentor and partner in the U.S. Senate, Chuck Grassley; and so many more!

While we look forward to Roast & Ride for a day of fun and good food, it’s underscored by time spent together with fellow Iowans from every corner of the state who understand that our freedoms are not free. Folks who know we have to work day in and day out to keep the American way of life alive and well.

Cpl. Daegan Page sacrificed his life so that we could be free to gather on a perfect fall day for a ruck, ride, and roast. His service is what makes America the greatest and freest nation on the face of the planet. Seeing hundreds of Iowans rally around our cherished American values – and those who sacrificed everything for them – reassures me that our nation’s best days are truly ahead of us.

Joni Ernst is a mother, soldier and leader who has never stopped fighting for Iowa.