By Master Sgt. Edward Huffine, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.April 11, 2016
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (April 11, 2016) - As a brigade sport bike and senior battalion motorcycle mentor, scores of Soldiers have asked me for advice about becoming a motorcyclist. Of these, one Soldier in particular stands out.
It was 2013, and this Soldier asked for my help, so I walked him and his company mentor through the process of becoming a motorcyclist. We assessed that the Soldier had no prior riding experience and recommended he purchase a used mid-level standard/sport motorcycle in the 300-500cc range to get a feel for riding. We helped him shop for motorcycles, but he didn't purchase one in the following weeks. When asked how things were going, he told us he was still looking.
Three weeks later, after completing the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Basic RiderCourse, the Soldier showed up to work on a Suzuki GSXR1300R Hayabusa. I was immediately concerned and expressed this to the rider, his Motorcycle Mentorship Program mentor and his company commander. Their response was the same -- disbelief. We all three counseled the Soldier on our concerns and set up a series of check rides and classes to assess his abilities and teach him how to be a responsible rider on such a powerful motorcycle.
Over the next five months, we took him on six mentor check rides and he participated in our battalion-level rider survival reaction mitigation and accident avoidance classes. The classes are designed to educate inexperienced riders how to avoid potentially fatal mistakes while riding, how to recover if mistakes are made and the basics of sound decisions while riding in and out of traffic. We followed up those classes with a mentor ride to show the riders what was taught in the classroom and how to apply it to the road.
At the time, III Corps policy required BRC-qualified riders take the MSF's Experienced RiderCourse within 180 days to receive a long-term on-post riding pass. We determined this particular Soldier had learned enough to take the ERC within that 180-day period. However, over the course of a month, he twice failed to show up for his scheduled class. On his second no-show, I recommended his chain of command counsel him on noncompliance and pull his riding privileges -- unless riding with a mentor or to the ERC -- until he completed the course. The counseling further explained the benefits of the ERC and how it helps to progress riders through the MMP and make them better motorcyclists.
About three and a half weeks after the Soldier received his riding privilege revocation and counseling, he decided to ride his motorcycle from Fort Hood to a family event in San Antonio. Along the way, the Soldier's actions while riding resulted in his death.
Some lessons learned from this Soldier's senseless death include:
• Even if you follow the MMP to the letter, a fatality may still occur; but we still must follow the program with due diligence to ensure compliance.
• Despite the outcome described in this article, guiding and educating a Soldier through the purchasing process is the best policy.
• Tracking Soldiers' progress through the MMP with check rides, classes and counseling affords them the best opportunity to becoming safe and experienced riders.
• Having non-riding leaders involved in the MMP is a proven best practice to ensure Soldiers know their leaders are involved and care about them.
This experience made me rethink how I educate young, inexperienced riders before they purchase a motorcycle. I use this example as a teaching tool and explain how inherently dangerous motorcycling is -- even in the best conditions. Losing even one Soldier in a motorcycle accident is tragic. In fiscal 2015, we lost 26 Soldiers to PMV-2 accidents, with a large majority (90 percent) being sport motorcycles. As of Mar. 10, 2016, we had 11 PMV-2 fatalities compared to three fatalities for the same time frame in fiscal 2015. This is a disturbing trend that should make us look at what we need to improve on to lower motorcycle accidents.
In closing, first-line and company-level leaders need to be involved and informed about their Soldiers' activities and especially motorcycle mentorship. The responsibility of motorcycle mentorship does not fall only on the motorcycle mentor, but with all leadership at every level. Engaged leaders will, in my opinion, help save lives.
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