Untrained and Unlucky
July 30, 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. All things considered, not a very impressive performance for my first day of riding. It dawned on me 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. I was safer jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft in flight than I was riding that motorcycle. I'd been trained to jump out of airplanes, but I hadn't been trained to ride a motorcycle. There was a course available at the time, but my own arrogance kept me from taking it. As far as motorcycle riding goes, I was lucky more 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 (a fictitious name) asked me to help him with a decision. You see, he'd also received a bonus for going airborne. I liked him a lot, I sensed his goodness and was always available for any questions he had. When he approached me, he was unable 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 new Honda. 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 be careful on the road. He told me he would and that he'd bought the most expensive helmet at the store, just in case.
About a month later, I received a call at home from the CQ. He told me Green died in a motorcycle accident while riding with his friend on Yadkin Road as the two were going to Cross Creek Mall. Green was on the inside and his friend on the outside position in the right lane when a car in the left lane hit Green's friend, who, in turn, struck him. Green lost control and dumped the bike, striking the curb with his helmet. The impact was so strong it cracked the helmet and caused severe head trauma. Sadly, he never even made it to the emergency room.
Green never took the motorcycle safety course. Had he, he might still be here today. His was the first memorial I attended where I personally knew the person the rifle, boots and helmet represented. It was a poignant moment for me when, during the roll call, he was not there to answer his name.
Since I began riding more than 30 years ago, riders have become much more aware of the importance of riding safety. Today, we have a mandate that all Soldiers who ride must first receive Motorcycle Safety Foundation-based training. Despite that, we still suffer losses from motorcycle accidents. I still ride today and always have my card showing I have completed my MSF training. Maybe if Green had taken that training, it would have saved him.
There is a saying that goes something like this, "We know the moment when we were born, but we don't know the moment when we will die." What I learned from my own mistakes is that knowing how to ride safely and building experience is the best way to make sure that second date comes later -- preferably, much later.