FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Aug. 1, 2013) - For the 1st Battalion, 223rd Aviation Regiment, motorcycle safety is serious, yet fun, business.

That approach was on full display at the unit's quarterly mentorship ride here Friday, June 28, just in time for the Independence Day holiday. The event, coordinated by Staff Sgt. Shane Cook, the battalion's aviation safety NCO and lead motorcycle mentor, included a refresher course on accident avoidance basics and a group ride along several of the area's long stretches of rural highway.

Cook has been riding most of his life and was involved in a serious deer collision on his motorcycle several years ago. That and other experiences are why he strives to keep his Soldiers in the safety mindset year-round, not just during May, which is the national observance of Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month.

"Here at Fort Rucker, we're able to ride 12 months of the year, so I try to keep safety at the forefront of our riding," Cook said, explaining that he incorporated accident avoidance into the day's training because riders never know when an unexpected obstacle will confront them on the road. "These are skills our Soldiers normally don't practice until it's too late."

The event was held at Fort Rucker's motorcycle training site, where Motorcycle Safety Foundation courses mandated by Army Regulation 385-10 are conducted regularly for the post's Soldiers and civilian employees. The controlled course allowed Cook and master trainers with Cape Fox, the government contractor that oversees MSF training on Fort Rucker, to evaluate rider skills in the safest environment possible. Each participant had the opportunity to practice swerving, coming to a quick stop, changing lanes and turning from a complete stop.

"It gives us an opportunity to really look at everyone's skill level," Cook said. "This way we can make sure people are doing what they're supposed to be doing. These are perishable skills."

There are approximately 45 Soldier riders in 1-223, along with several Department of the Army civilians. All are welcome in the battalion's Motorcycle Mentorship Program, and every incoming rider is treated to an introductory mentorship ride within their first 60 days in the unit. Soldiers making new motorcycle purchases, whether it's a first-time buy or an upgrade to a different model, also have a one-on-one ride with a mentor.

"We know and they know they have to have confidence on their bike," he said. "We're just ensuring safety is being followed."

Even the unit's non-riders occasionally get in on the fun.

"I try to encourage all my safety officers to take the MSF's Basic RiderCourse," Cook said. "That way they have some understanding of what risks riders face and can better meet their needs."

This type of effort is exactly what the Army needs to address motorcycle fatalities, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mark Parr of the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center's Driving Directorate.

"The MMP is a model that works," Parr said. "When leaders encourage Soldiers to set up and participate in riding days, it can only benefit the Soldier when riding on his or her own."

The most important goal of all, according to Cook, is really very simple.

"We want riders to enjoy their motorcycles, but get back safely every single time," he said.