4th annual motorcycle rally stresses safety
May 29, 2009
Fort Sill electric- and kick-started summer with a day of safety and fun as more than 400 motorcyclists rode in the 4th Annual Freedom's Thunder Motorcycle Rally May 22. After a welcome, a prayer and safety briefings, the rumble of low revvin' V-twins, quiet touring machines, decibel-dominating sport bikes and everything in between filled the Polo Field as riders warmed up their iron horses.
At 9 a.m. with a cannon fire, a mix of military, family members and civilian motorcyclists pulled onto Sheridan Drive on their way to a 68-mile ride through the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.
"The ride went well. The route was excellent scenery, and also it made you aware of the road hazards out there with the curves and hills," said rider Sgt. Avery Peoples, of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 22nd Field Artillery.
The ride, hosted by the Installation Safety Office, was a lead-in to the Army's 101 Critical Days of Summer safety awareness campaign, which runs Memorial Day through Labor Day, said Kenneth Broughton, installation safety manager. The campaign reminds Soldiers to focus on safety whether on- or off-duty.
Freedom's Thunder educates riders about motorcycle safety, provides mentorship for inexperienced riders and lets people know that a large number of motorcyclists ride in the Lawton-Fort Sill community, said Broughton, who served as master of ceremonies for the road rally.
In his welcome, motorcyclist Col. Gregory Dyekman, chief of staff for the U.S. Army Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill, and co-coordinator for the rally, stressed riding safety.
Dyekman noted that the Army has lost 300 Soldiers to motorcycle accidents in the last two years and another 75, who had to leave the service because of injuries.
Dyekman emphasized the importance of mentorship in riding.
"Those of you who are experienced riders, you need to grab those young guys under your wings and take care of them," he said. "They just don't need to be going out and getting on the highway until they know what they are doing."
Lt. Col. Sean Ryan, deputy director of Strategic Communications, and co-coordinator for Freedom's Thunder, went over the ride route, which took motorcyclists through the Holy City, prairie dog village, Meers Store and Restaurant and Lake Lawtonka.
Ryan noted hazardous spots on the route.
"When you get into the refuge, it's not a 90-degree turn, but it's pretty close and right at the end of the turn while you're still in your lean there is a cattle guard," Ryan said.
Ryan led the riders as a group up Sheridan Road, where the Fort Sill Police had stopped traffic at intersections. Off post, the Lawton Police did the same as riders took Rogers Lane to their first stop at Billingsley Ford of Lawton. After that riders continued on their own with stops at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Visitors' Center and the Fishermen's Cove restaurant in Medicine Park.
The Fort Sill Directorate of Family & Morale, Welfare and Recreation was responsible for the event's registration, commercial sponsorship and door prizes, said Maria Hayes, administrative management specialist with F&MWR.
Hayes said she was pleased with the number of motorcyclists who participated.
"We had a great turn out this year," she said, "and it seemed like it ran really smooth. We didn't have any hiccups."
The rally drew a variety of riders, said Tonya Cordero, Commercial Sponsorships and Advertising coordinator at F&MWR.
"We have riders that are not just active-duty military, but we have the public as well and they come from Southwest Oklahoma, Texas and all around," Cordero said.
Cordero said that volunteers from F&MWR, other units and servicemembers made the event possible.
Pvt. Joseph Lara, of the Marine Detachment, was one of 10 Marines who volunteered to help with the rally.
The Marines helped set up the tents, picnic tables and chairs, policed the area and at the end of the event were responsible for breaking it down, said Lara, who will be attending field artillery school here.
"We do a lot of working parties and a lot of cleaning," Lara said.
After the ride at the Polo Field, motorcyclists were treated to entertainment and could buy a lunch catered by staff from the Patriot Club.
Various sponsors and vendors were at the field including Proteam Harley-Davidson of Lawton, which donated helmets, safety vests and riding gloves as door prizes.
Proteam representative Suzanne Hay manned a booth selling personal protective equipment and sportswear.
"We've had a lot of interest, a lot from our current customers," she said. "We have some things we know they can use so we've reduced the prices."
Five Soldiers from the 75th Fires Brigade worked a booth to publicize their brigade run on June 13.
"We out here getting promotion for the run and selling T-shirts," said Sgt. Richard Lang, a medic. "The run will be a good time for family and friends."
Recruiter Spc. Stephanie Winfield of the Army National Guard Recruiting Office in Lawton, assisted with a display of the Patriot Chopper a National Guard motorcycle customized by Orange County Choppers.
"A lot of people have been checking it out and we have a lot of people coming to take pictures of it," Winfield said.
Staff Sgt. John Newton, HHB, 1-22, is the Motorcycle Mentor for his battalion, and is responsible for keeping unit members abreast of motorcycle safety, regulations and training.
He said he always stresses wearing personal protective equipment during training.
"The most important thing is not only the initial training you get before your licensed, but wearing your PPE because that will save your life," Newton said.
Newton has ridden in every Freedom's Thunder rally and said that he has noticed improvements over the years.
"The command support for it has grown immensely plus all the sponsors," Newton said. "I just hope they keep doing it."
To view the new Fort Sill Motorcycle Safety Program memorandum, go to the Fort Sill Intranet, click on "Agency/Directorate/Unit" then "Installation Safety Office" then "Enter Safety Page."
To register for motorcycle safety courses offered here, visit the Army Installation Managment Command Registration System at https://airs.Lmi.org/Click on "View Available Courses." For Region select "West" and for Garrison select "Fort Sill." The courses are free and open to active-duty military and DA/DoD civilians.