By Chief Warrant Officer 3 Terrill CampMarch 22, 2016
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (March 22, 2016) - While in Afghanistan, every Thursday night I would get together with three friends and watch "Sons of Anarchy," a television show about the exploits of an outlaw motorcycle gang. After about six months of watching, we decided we all needed to buy motorcycles when we returned home. We figured our buddy, Dustin, who was an experienced rider, would be a good person to give us some guidance. While his advice was sound, our execution was a bit questionable.
Dustin had been riding motorcycles since he was about 7 years old, starting out on a little 50cc dirt bike and working his way up to a Harley. The first thing he told us was we needed to sign up for a Motorcycle Safety Foundation riding course. He then suggested we buy ourselves smaller bikes, such as a 250cc Honda Rebel, until we got more familiar and comfortable with riding. Of course, we weren't having any of that. Nobody on "Sons of Anarchy" rode a 250cc Honda. That just wasn't cool.
Once we got back home, all three of us signed up for the MSF's Basic RiderCourse. Unfortunately, because of the large number of people that had signed up for the course, it would be a few months before we could start the training. In the meantime, I continued my search for the perfect bike. I eventually found exactly what I was looking for -- a 2008 Harley-Davidson Dyna Low -- at a dealership in Texas. It was 1584cc's of pure beauty in Copperhead Pearl and Red Hot Sunglo. I called the dealership, negotiated a price over the phone and had the bike shipped to Kentucky. I couldn't wait to ride it, but first I had to complete my training requirements.
After what seemed like an eternity, our start date for the Basic RiderCourse finally arrived. To my surprise, just three days into training we were all zooming around the course track. It was great, but what we failed to realize was we were riding 250cc motorcycles in a controlled environment. On the road, we'd be dealing with real-world obstacles. Our commander, who also was an avid rider, told us we needed to make sure we entered the Motorcycle Mentorship Program and gave us advice on when and where we should ride at first. So, Dustin was stuck with not only being our friend, but also our mentor.
Dustin talked to us about what to do and what not to do on the road and took us to parking lots for more low-speed practice. Eventually, though, I got bored with all the repetition. After a lot of whining on my part, Dustin finally relented and took me out for a short ride. Just as we were finishing up, we stopped to eat at a restaurant, where he went over the same lessons he'd already given us many times. By this point I was thinking to myself, "All right already! I've got it!"
Later that day, less than two miles from my house, I made a rookie mistake -- I didn't look through my turn. The next thing I knew I was heading straight for a large, steep drainage ditch. Then Dustin's words popped into my head: "Remove the power and come to a controlled stop." Thanks to the repetition of his instructions, I reacted just the way he'd taught us and safely stopped just short of the ditch.
I'm a firm believer in the Army's Motorcycle Mentorship Program. While the Basic RiderCourse gave me a great foundation, I needed that extra training from Dustin afterward to continue building my knowledge and abilities. When I went through the MSF's Advanced RiderCourse a year later, as well as refresher courses after each deployment, it revealed the bad habits I had started to develop. I was then able to make corrections before that habit got me into trouble.
I continue to ride with more experienced riders in my unit. I'm always more than happy to hear their constructive criticism and suggested corrections without taking it personally. The way I figure it, I can recover from hurt feelings or wounded pride a lot faster than from injuries caused by a preventable accident.
Knowledge magazine is always looking for contributing authors to provide ground, aviation, driving and off-duty safety articles. Don't let the fact that you've never written an article for publication scare you. Our editors promise to make you look good. By sharing your knowledge, you can make a valuable contribution to those who need your information to do their jobs safely. Your article might just save another Soldier's life. To learn more, visit https://safety.army.mil/MEDIA/Knowledge/TellYourStory.aspx.