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Paying it forward: The Warrior Built Way

May 22 2019

There’s no official rulebook outlining what it takes to be a “warrior.” Although most of us would likely agree that it’s a title earned, not given, with courage, discipline, and the ability to overcome adversity being just a few of the prerequisites. Some make headlines, while others fly under the radar, like United States Marine Corps combat veteran 1st Sgt. Nick Hamm who by all accounts is a warrior. After hearing his story, we’re certain you’ll agree.

Warrior Built founder, 1st Sgt. Nick Hamm USMC, Retired

Hamm joined the Marine Corps in 1995 at age 19 with a goal of completing 20 years of service. Ten years later, his life was forever altered. While conducting combat operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom, an IED leveled his machine gun squad’s vehicle. He was medevaced out and flown to Germany with severe injuries to his left leg. Fearing the worst, Hamm awoke from surgery to learn doctors were able to save the leg after multiple surgeries. To him, that meant his dream of completing 20 years in the Marine Corps was still alive. Staring his next battle down like the skilled infantryman he is, Hamm powered through two years of excruciating physical and emotional therapy before volunteering to return to combat in 2007, citing the decision as “something he just had to do.”

Hamm was the front passenger leading his machine gun section during combat operations in Iraq when an I.E.D. detonated under the vehicle's right front tire, leaving him with the worst injuries of his team. This photo was taken after he was transported by helicopter for surgery, his team remained on security to protect the destroyed vehicle until it could be towed back to the compound. (Photo courtesy of Warrior Built Foundation)

Hamm would go on to achieve his goal, serving eight more years in the Marine Corps before retiring in 2015. His esteemed 20-year career includes Purple Heart honors, among other notable achievements, but it was an unforeseen life event five years earlier that truly tested his resolve when his fiancé passed away unexpectedly. The overwhelming emotional impact from the loss combined with an ever-present weight of combat and complications from his injuries sent him into a dark downward spiral.

Soon a routine set in of surviving the day job with the Marines and coming home to an empty house with a head full of thought and an easy way out in the form of a bottle. After a year of hitting it hard, Hamm knew he had to change so he decided to build a chopper with a group of fellow combat wounded veterans to occupy his nights and weekends. He coordinated everything with the build, and all the veterans had to do was show up. It didn’t take long to see how much it helped the other guys with their own struggles, not to mention how much it was helping him.

“Honestly, it was the best thing ever for me,” said Hamm. “It kept me from drinking and really gave me a purpose again. When you get a bunch of guys together you start talking about life. Good times, bad times. It’s kind of like your own counseling session where we were all able to help each other. After we wrapped up the chopper they were like, ‘Hey man, you need to keep doing this,’ and that’s ultimately how I got the idea for Warrior Built.”

Photo courtesy of Warrior Built

Hamm founded the Warrior Built Foundation in 2012, taking his late-night chopper therapy for veterans concept to a whole ‘nother level. Warrior Built offers veterans a means of therapy through a variety of recreational and vocational outlets including motorcycles, cars, music, camping and much more. They started in what was essentially a two-car garage and now operate out of a 3,500 sq. ft. facility in Lake Elsinore, California, with the help of one of the foundation’s biggest supporters, Monster Energy.

Applicants are given a standard vetting process to verify service and combat, as well as to let Warrior Built learn more about them and what they might be struggling with. If requirements are met, it’s 100% free to join—something that was extremely important to Hamm—and members can come to the shop any time they want during operating hours.

“Ultimately Warrior Built really started because of all my trials and tribulations,” said Hamm. “Luckily, I found a way to keep my mind busy, stop abusing alcohol and stop isolating myself, and that was by helping others. And it obviously also helped me so it’s really become my passion.”

Much like the many co-op garages and collectives popping up across the country, Warrior Built members have complete access to shop tools and equipment for personal projects, and they can also take part in any bike build, fundraiser or event. Hamm and the Warrior Built crew love going full throttle at endurance races like the Baja 500/1000. In March they fielded two teams in the Mint 400 where they raced a dirt bike and heavily modified 1983 Sportster in the Vintage Class. This was the first year motorcycles were allowed to race in the Mint since the mid-‘70s, something the Warrior Built team, many of which are riders, was proud to be part of. Hamm says he enjoys endurance racing events because it “takes a team,” so even guys who don’t have the riding experience can still “be part of something pretty awesome” as a crewmember.

Photos courtesy of Warrior Built Foundation

“We do just about anything that’ll get a group of combat wounded veterans together,” said Hamm. “Warrior Built is open every day and any of our members who might be going through some rough patches can just come by and chill out for a bit to get their minds off things. Nothing is mandatory. I just want to do anything I can to pay forward that sense of purpose that I felt.”

We were honored to be involved with a recent Warrior Built project that gave a most deserving veteran’s 2016 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited a surprise makeover. Sgt. Maj. (E-9) William E. Shaw (USMC) recently retired at the Marine Corps highest level after 26 years of service. Military accolades aside, Shaw was (unknowingly) chosen to have his Ultra freshened up because of his role in Hamm’s personal life. The two served in Iraq together and Hamm openly admits the elder Shaw has been a mentor along the way, helping him overcome his struggles and pushing him to realize his dream that has become the Warrior Built Foundation.

Josh Rundlett of Rundlett Performance & Machine working his magic on the 2016 Ultra Limited

We basically handed Hamm the Kury catalog and told him to let us know what he needed. The bike got full L.E.D. lighting plus a stage-2 engine kit including our Crusher exhaust, cams, lifters, and pushrods, with installation and Dyno tuning performed by the wizard Josh Rundlett at Rundlett Performance. Josh is renowned for his engine building and tuning capabilities, and always donates his time to help out Warrior Built when he can. His handiwork along with a slew of other creature comforts helped turned Shaw’s otherwise stock Ultra into a fully loaded touring beast (Featured Parts List below). It was rad to see the moto community come together to support Warrior Built and our vets on this project: Mustang Seats donated a super plush heated Deluxe Super Touring saddle and matching backrest, Race Tech pitched in with full suspension upgrade, Arlen Ness kicked down oversized rotors front and rear, and Carlini stepped up with some new apes.

“I’ve always wanted to give back to him because he’s done so much for me,” said Hamm. “He’s been involved with Warrior Built since day one, and he was just one of those guys who never let me help him. Without his leadership and mentorship after I was wounded and when my fiancé passed away, Warrior Built would have never happened.”

Hamm (front left) was able to present Shaw (front center) with his "new" Ultra alongside Shaw's fellow members of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association

At its core, Warrior Built is veterans helping veterans. The networking, learning from and teaching each other trade skills, and finding peace through each other’s life stories is invaluable. Warrior Built lets these veterans know that they aren’t alone out there, and it gives them a place to go when they are. According to Hamm, the brotherhood and camaraderie are exactly what many of these guys are missing. They get out of the military and go from being in a platoon or battalion, surrounded by brothers they've been with every day for years, then they go back to hometown USA and all of a sudden that networking and feeling of familiarity with those around them shrink drastically.

“They always ask, ‘What can I do to give back to Warrior Built?’ and I just tell them to find someone else that you know is struggling,” said Hamm. “We all know one person that’s probably struggling, reach out to that person and let them know about Warrior Built. Bring them to the shop.”

Hamm’s passion for paying it forward hasn’t gone unnoticed. The City of Lake Elsinore recently selected the Warrior Built Foundation as the 2018 Non-Profit of the Year, an honor recognized by the United States Senate and Congress that will hopefully lead to (additional) all-important funding for Warrior Built.

We asked Hamm what the future of Warrior Built looked like and what his next goal was with the charity. He didn’t hesitate with his response, saying he wants to see a Warrior Built facility in every major metropolitan area of the United States. A true warrior’s mission that 1st Sgt. Nick Hamm USMC, Retired, is ready to take on.

To learn how you can help or to find out more information on the Warrior Built Foundation, visit www.warriorbuilt.org.

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