VICKSBURG, Miss. - Despite the cool fall weather, U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers geared up at November's battle assembly to participate in their first motorcycle safety ride round-trip from the 412th Theater Engineer Command in Vicksburg, Mississippi to Natchez, Mississippi.
Seasoned motorcyclists spearheaded the training for the 150-mile route on interstate and country roads to practice riding in a group, using hand signals, spacing between bikes and riding defensively.
"The 412th's Motorcycle Mentorship Program is really to help novice up to experienced riders learn how to ride safely in a group," said Sgt. 1st Class Robert Judge, chaplain's assistant, 412th TEC, who has been riding for 20 years. "Most guys ride motorcycles by themselves, but every now and then you can ride in groups from five or six guys up to 500. This training gets you comfortable riding in a large group."
The Department of Army Regulation 385-10 and United States Army Reserve Regulation 385-2, which governs motorcycle riding, includes the mentorship program as an effort to reduce motorcycle accidents.
"The ride is about getting us kick-started into the military's motorcycle mentorship program so the older riders who've been around a while can help the younger riders get their spacing, see if they're riding safely, checking their bikes' features mechanically and showing them what to look for," said Judge, the 412th TEC motorcycle mentorship coordinator.
The mentorship program enforces safety guidelines, but also helps younger Soldiers become more safety conscious from their role models.
"This was my first time riding with this unit," said Staff Sgt. Terrence Dixon Jr., budget manager, 412th TEC who has been riding four years. "When I ride in groups, I look for some of the habits of the more experienced riders. I also like to ask them about their bikes to get a comparisons as to how their bikes handle versus my bike. You always learn a lot from the guys who've been riding 20-plus or 40-plus years. Me as a new rider, I'm always trying to gather a little more information from them on how to brake, how to handle a bike better and how to move out throughout traffic. The group moved really well and was able to change the route when needed."
Judge said part of the program's objective is to help Soldiers slow down, drive safely and enjoy riding.
"Probably in the last 10 years, the number of fatalities has increased," he said. "A lot of guys come back from deployments, go out and purchase hot, fast motorcycles, looking for the rushes they had in combat."
In true fashion of Soldiers moving and communicating, the riders practiced hand and foot signals while driving in a staggered formation. This promoted maneuverability on the road and in the group.
"We practiced sending our signals forward and sending them back, so if something happened we could take care of any issue," said Judge.
Judge said even the veteran riders took home some lessons learned.
"We learned we really need to focus on each other, even though most of us are seasoned riders, we still had a couple of things happen maintaining speed and distance," he said. "We want to keep a tight group so cars don't have a chance to break into the pack, which separates the bikes and gets really dangerous. We learned to keep our pack tight, watch our spacing while passing our signals forward and back."
The training ensured Soldiers were safe, having fun and learning while promoting camaraderie.
"I feel when you put the experienced riders with less experienced riders, you are helping them get the knowledge to be safe on their bike and lessen the chance they'll have an accident," said Dixon. "You also build a camaraderie by getting out there. You have a common interest which is the motorcycle and it gives you friendships that go past the ranks."