Don't Count on Luck
January 3, 2012
Within four hours, I stopped at the company orderly room to visit a friend who was pulling duty as the charge of quarters runner. Afterward, as I was pulling out of the parking lot, I managed to dump the bike and break a lens cover -- not a very impressive performance for my first day of riding. It finally dawned on me that maybe there really was a good reason for taking motorcycle safety training.
Looking back, I realize how lucky I was I didn't kill myself. The truth is I was safer jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft than I was riding on that motorcycle. I'd been trained to jump out of airplanes, but I hadn't been trained to ride a motorcycle. There was a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course available at the time, but my own arrogance kept me from taking it. As far as motorcycle riding goes, I was more lucky than skilled in the beginning.
Unfortunately, a young trooper who joined my fire team a couple of years later wasn't as lucky. One day after the last formation, Pvt. Green (not his real name) asked me to help him with a decision. He'd also received a bonus for going airborne and was trying to decide whether to put the money in the bank or buy a motorcycle. A friend of his in the headquarters platoon had recently bought a bike and was encouraging him to get one so they could ride together. I told him about my riding experiences and suggested he put his money in the bank, emphasizing that would be the wisest choice. He promptly thanked me and said he agreed.
A couple of days later, he appeared with a brand new Honda motorcycle. I was surprised and asked him what happened. Inside I already knew the answer; he'd buckled under the pressure from his friend to buy the bike. I told him to take the rider safety course and to be careful on the road. He told me that he would and that he'd bought the most expensive helmet at the store, just in case.
A little more than a month later, I received a call at home from the person pulling CQ duty. He told me Green had died in a fatal motorcycle accident while riding with his friend. Apparently, a car in the left lane hit Green's friend, who, in turn, struck him. Losing control, Green dumped the bike and struck the curb with his helmet. The impact was so strong it cracked the helmet and caused him severe head trauma. Sadly, he never even made it to the emergency room.
Green never took the motorcycle safety course. If he had, he might still be here today. His was the first memorial I'd attended where I personally knew the person that the rifle, boots and helmet represented. It was the most poignant moment in my life when I heard the roll call and he was not there to call out his name.
Things have changed a lot since I began riding in 1980. Fortunately, riders now are much more aware of the importance of riding safety. Today in the Army, we have a mandate that all Soldiers and Army Civilians who ride must first receive MSF-based training. Yet even so, we still suffer losses from motorcycle accidents. I still ride and always have my MSF training card on me. If Green had taken the training, maybe he'd still be riding today.
There is a saying that goes something like, "We know the moment when we were born, but we don't know the moment when we will die." I can tell you that getting safety training before you ride is the best way to ensure that latter date comes much later.