FORT SILL, Okla. -- With the Fort Sill Field Artillery Half-Section fining a historic howitzer, more than 200 motorcyclists pulled out of the Sheridan Theater parking lot at about 10 a.m. to begin the Eighth Annual Freedom's Thunder motorcycle safety rally May 9, here. The free ride, which was open to the public, took motorcyclists over a 60-mile course through Lawton, the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and Medicine Park.

Before the ride, Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general, welcomed the riders and wished them a safe, fun ride.

He emphasized the value of personal protective equipment and spoke about his recent bicycling accident and how wearing a helmet probably saved his life.

"I'd probably be still lying on the road because that helmet was cracked right here along the temple," said McDonald, pointing to his head.

The general spoke about a motorcycle fatality involving a Fort Sill Soldier and how it was preventable. It was because of drinking, refusing a safe ride home, failing to negotiate a turn and excessive speed. This year, Armywide there have been 37 motorcycle accidents and nine of them have been fatalities, he said.

McDonald told the crowd everyone has a job to do, and that they are needed whether they are a Soldier, family member, Army civilian or a citizen.

"Everyone is important and we have to protect the force, we have to preserve the force," McDonald said.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Brent Hayes, 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade motorcycle mentor, covered the route, noting the designated stopping points and construction sites, and covering the rules of the road.

"We're out here to have a good time and be safe," Hayes said. "Nobody has to be in a hurry and speed."

In his blessing of the riders, Chaplain (Maj.) Douglas Lax, installation pastoral coordinator, said: "Father ... we ask you to give us soft winds and smooth roads and keep the shiny side up and have everyone return safely."

Army rider training
The Army Safety Program requires military motorcyclists to complete progressive motorcycle safety courses, said Kenneth Broughton, Installation Safety Office manager. The first course is the Basic Rider Course, which requires classroom and riding instruction. After the BRC and within 12 months, riders must complete either the Experienced Rider Course or Military Sport Bide Rider Course, depending on the type of bike they ride. All motorcyclists returning from a deployment of six months or longer, must complete Motorcycle Refresher Training before they can operate their bikes. And, every three years, military riders are required to complete Sustainment Training, which is repeating the ERC or MSRC, as appropriate, according to CG Policy Memo 12-02.

Free motorcycle training for service members is scheduled through the Army Installation Managment Command Registration System at

After the rally, riders returned to the Impact Zone for raffle drawings for motorcycle apparel, safety gear and gift certificates. Vendors included Wind River Harley-Davidson, Morris Motorsports, Freedom Furniture and Electronics, Red Bull beverages, Billingsley Ford-Hyundai, Fort Sill Credit Union and USAA insurance.