As those affiliated with the military will tell you, it often feels like a big family. Friends met through the military can become close; neighbors are willing to watch your children at the drop of a hat, and a barracks roommate will meet you on the side of the highway after your car overheats. For one local Joint-Base Lewis McChord group, Jeeps are bringing Servicemembers and their families together.
Spc. Michael Cowan, who started the JBLM Military Jeepers group last summer, remembers his days with the Fort Hood, Texas chapter.
"(My family and I) truly enjoyed (our) experience with them," said Cowan, who works with the 51st Signal Battalion. "I wanted to start a chapter here to share the experience and have a great time."
Because of his passion, starting a group on JBLM seemed like a no-brainer. With the help of a friend, Cowan organized a JBLM Military Jeepers meet and greet in July 2012 at a local Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant. From then on, the group started meeting every first Friday at Galloping Gerties, a restaurant in Tillicum just off I-5 exit 122.
There are only two requirements for joining the free group: serving in the military (either past or present), and owning a Jeep of any model. Current members of the group share much more than just a hobby, however - in fact, many take their infatuation back to their childhoods. As a kid, Cowan said he would often draw Jeeps with various paint schemes, and Navy veteran Sara Street recalled that as a small child she always wanted a Jeep. Street is also the group's only female driver, a stance that might intimidate some, since the group rides off road in everything from simple trails to treacherous brush.
"Off-roading is all about common sense," she said. "And I love that once you're in the Jeep family, you never leave."
Though the group holds an official off-road run each month, it is common for a "hey, you" run to occur on the weekends as well.
"We call each other up and say, ‘hey, you want to go out?'" Cowan said. "And if we're not together on a run, we are also at the (JBLM Auto Shop) helping each other out."
Runs take place throughout the state of Washington or even Oregon, and the group stresses that no one should ride off road on JBLM property, as it can lead to a $100 minimum fine.
This group takes its fun very seriously. If you have a Jeep and would like to get some mud on your tires, request to join the group via Facebook by searching for "Military Jeepers (JBLM)." There is also an online forum at www.militaryjeepers.com for those who would like information about other chapters.