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Fort Bragg car culture creates camaraderie, community

Soldiers who are drawn to the thrill of fast vehicles find familiar camaraderie in the car culture — and the monthly Cars and Coffee gatherings on Fort Bragg help bring these like-minded troops together.

CHRIS JOHNS/FACEBOOK

By STEVE DEVANE | The Fayetteville Observer | Published: August 14, 2019

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune Content Agency) — Soldiers who are drawn to the thrill of fast vehicles find familiar camaraderie in the car culture.

Fort Bragg troops own classic cars, race cars and muscle cars. Some own motorcycles or pickups.

Jessica Hullender organizes monthly Cars and Coffee events, which usually have 100 to 300 cars. At least half the people who participate have a military connection, she said.

Hullender said her group has a Facebook page that often attracts soldiers who are coming to Fort Bragg.

"They're already looking to get into the car scene before they get here," she said.

Mitch Peterson is co-owner of I-95 Muscle in Hope Mills, which sells cars on consignment. If a soldier is deploying, the company can help sell the car.

Many in the military like cars with character, including Mustangs, Corvettes and Camaros, Peterson said. Some add "performance upgrades," he said.

"Most young soldiers want to have something cool to drive," he said.

Peterson said car owners with military connections play a major role in the local car community.

"There's a lot of people in Fayetteville who have nice cars," he said.

Some of those nice cars belong to members of Mopars of Fayetteville, a car club for owners of Dodge and related manufacturers' vehicles. Many of the club's members have military connections.

Jim "Pops" Martin, who has a 2012 Dodge Challenger, retired from the Air Force after serving as a gunner on an AC-130 gunship. Malik Palacios, who has a 2018 Dodge Challenger Hellcat, is a civilian who owns BUA car sales on Yadkin Road, but his father was in the Army.

Christy Acebedo, a member of the group, is a soldier who serves in the 16th Military Police Brigade's 65th Military Police Company. She has a 2016 Dodge Charger Scat Pack. A wrap on her blue car turns it into a purple and pink tribute to her mother, who died in 2012 of breast cancer.

"My mom's favorite color was purple," she said.

Adam Wood, who is in the 1st Special Forces Command at Fort Bragg, is a member of the club. He has a 2016 Charger SRT.

Wood said he is a NASCAR fan and likes "fast cars going fast."

"It's something to get the adrenaline pumping," he said.

Geoff Dardia, a master sergeant in a Special Operations unit, owns five classic vehicles, including a 1954 Chevrolet, a 1959 Cadillac Coupe DeVille and a 1930 Ford. He is a member of a military chapter of the Road Devils, a car club that was formed in 1946 by veterans who served in World War II.

Dardia said soldiers like the adrenaline rush that cars can bring.

"People in the military are risk takers by nature," he said.

Adam Benaway also owns five cars. One is a race car.

"My thing is driving," he said. "I'm all about handling and precision driving."

Benaway, who has been at Fort Bragg for 16 years, is in a Special Operations unit, but is leaving to become an instructor at the Army's evasive driving course at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

"Most car enthusiasts are also adrenaline junkies," he said.

Some who love cars want the cleanest or most visually appealing, Benaway said. Others want the best sound system or a lot of horsepower, he said. Some like trucks or vehicles that ride lower than normal. Others like drag racing.

Benaway has won two Sports Car Club of America national championships. He said racing is his one and only hobby.

"It's definitely a thrill," he said. "That's an alternative way to get adrenaline."

Will Melton, a retired soldier, likes fast cars. When he was younger he was fascinated with Ford Mustangs. One of his first cars was a 2004 Cobra that he drove on the Autobahn when he was stationed in Germany.

"It's not exactly like being in a firefight, but it is adrenaline," he said.

Melton is a member of a car club called Mad City Mopars (Mopars is a portmanteau of motor and parts). He said the group has raised money for an animal shelter and two schools. It also has collected items for veterans' homes, he said.

Mopars of Fayetteville raises money for first responders and Relay for Life, said Frank Rodriguez, the president. Acebedo's car was featured at a Relay for Life event, he said.

The group sends care packages to soldiers who are deployed and places American flags on graves at the Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. It also holds skate nights and plays kickball.

"We're a very family friendly car club," Rodriguez said.

Cureston Brice, the club's vice president, is a veteran who works on Fort Bragg as a civilian. She has a 2018 Charger Scat Pack.

Club members often go out to eat and hang out together.

"Camaraderie is what it's all about," she said.

Club member Ryan Wilcox owns a 2018 Charger RT.

"We take care of each other," he said. "That's what drew me into the club."

The club's founder, Donald Evans, is known as "Mr. Texas," Brice said.

"He's big on giving back to the community," she said. "That's why we do what we do."

Palacios said the club members bond with each other.

"We spend time together helping people," he said. "That's what I love."

The car culture helps create a sense of belonging for veterans, Dardia said. Some lose their sense of purpose when they leave the military, he said.

"Everything we do in Special Ops is a team environment," he said "When you get ripped out of that team environment, you're kind of flapping."

When soldiers work on their cars in the evening, they can forget about the unpleasant stuff that happened during the day, Melton said. The work can be beneficial to soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder because it takes patience to tweak vehicles, he said.

Benaway works with a nonprofit group called Racing for Heroes. It provides what he calls "motorsports therapy" for those struggling with PTSD.

The group lets veterans participate in races, with some driving and some working on the cars.

"We get them back in a team environment that simulates the military," he said.

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