By Mr. Michael M Novogradac (Hood)July 21, 2016
WEST FORT HOOD, Texas -- Thirty-one bikers from two units here traversed twisty Hill Country roads on their way to Burnet, Texas during a Motorcycle Mentorship Program ride Thursday.
Twenty-two motorcyclists with the 504th Military Intelligence Battalion and nine from Operational Test Command joined forces to cover three counties for about 50 miles each way.
Split into two groups, sport bikes took a hillier and twisty route while the cruisers took a laid back route more to their liking.
Riders ranged in experience from one month in the iron horse saddle to more than 30 years.
"This is my first big group ride," said Spc. Patrick A. Lewis, a signal intelligence analyst at the 504th with only about 200 miles under his belt. "I've only done one other group ride, and it was only with four people.
"I learned a lot today," Lewis continued, "Like hand-and-arm signals; leg signals; when and how to lean into the curve; when to roll on the throttle as your coming out of the curve, and not to worry if you fall a little behind."
Describing himself as a thrill seeker, Lewis looks up to and wants to be more like his older brother who's ridden for 20 years.
From Jasper, Texas, the 23 year-old said, "Whether you're riding in a group or not, safety comes first."
One fairly senior officer joined the ride with 14 of his battalion's 16 Soldier motorcyclists.
Riding for 32 years and starting on dirt bikes as a young man in southeast Texas, Lt. Col. Jason T. Liddell, commander of the 163rd Military Intelligence "Blue Watch" Battalion, has ridden on both coasts of America, and even from Texas to Vancouver in the Canadian province of British Columbia.
Liddell has also ridden in Italy, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
"I get pure enjoyment of letting Soldiers know that safety on motorcycles is important," he said. "It is training like any other training. It's been planned, resourced, and coordinated -- and I get to see Soldiers train on something that keeps them safe in their personal life."
Liddell added that MMP rides offer him time to sense his command informally. "I can talk to my noncommissioned officers. I can talk to my junior Soldiers. I can get a sensing of who I think may be at more danger at being a rider and impart that to my subordinate leaders, and they can include that in monthly, weekly, and four-day weekend safety sessions."
504th's senior motorcycle mentor, Sgt. 1st Class Rachel L. Phillips, has been an avid sport bike rider for 13 years, and has even taken stunt riding courses to improve her skills.
She is the only female motorcycle rider in her brigade, and has been a motorcycle mentor for eight years.
"Mentors watch more junior, less experienced riders while on the road," Phillips said. "You never want to put one mentor with more than two individuals who need assessments. We want to help less experienced riders improve their general riding skills, so you'll have a better rider in the long run."
Currently with child, Phillips took part in the ride as the "trail vehicle," behind the sport bikes. She said the trail vehicle is necessary in case of an emergency.
"In my trail vehicle, I've got a Combat Life Saver bag in the back; I've got some cones and some safety triangles, and some basic tools, so if there is a mechanical issue on a motorcycle, the trail vehicle has the ability to immediately stop and get that individual out of that situation."
Phillips said the best thing a motorcycle rider can do is take advice from the more experienced riders.
"Not everybody likes to listen," she said. "I'm always one of those people who feel I learn a lot more by listening than I do by talking. So, bragging and taking chances is a way to end your life. You can have a lot of fun on a motorcycle without going through the danger of hurting yourself."
Statistics show all Army installations worldwide having nearly 33,500 motorcycles registered.
The National Highway Safety Administration, says there are over 4 million registered motorcycles in America, or just two percent of all registered vehicles.
While about five percent of all roadway fatalities involve motorcycles each year, 80 percent of those crashes result in injury or death. For automobiles, those figures lower to only 20 percent.
Across America during 2013, NHTSA's motorcycle fact sheet says 4,668 motorcyclists were killed -- 26 times more frequently than passenger car occupant deaths.