ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, May 8, 2009) -- Almost 50 motorcycles and trailers set up shop in the Pentagon's north parking lot May 1 as part of the annual Joint-Service Motorcycle Safety Event.

Brig. Gen. William T. Wolf, commander of the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center, opened the event, explaining that its purpose was to combat the rising number of military fatalities on motorcycles. In 2008, 126 servicemembers were killed in motorcycle accidents.

"The Army had a 50-percent reduction in on-duty fatalities, but a 7- to 8-percent increase in off-duty fatalities," Wolf said. "We have programs out there designed to make a difference, some of them here today. You wouldn't leave a [forward operating base] without being properly trained; why would you leave your garage or barracks'"

The event featured displays from government and military safety offices, including the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, Military District of Washington, Army National Guard, Coast Guard, Drivers Safety Division at Marine Corps Base Quantico and the Navy Safety Center.

The Pentagon, Arlington and Alexandria Police Departments also showed up, both to demonstrate safe riding techniques, and to show off their skills. Kevin Schwantz, a former world champion sport bike rider was there to give some demonstrations.

There was a booth set up with several motorcycle simulators, designed to help riders simulate various weather and road conditions while riding. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation, an organization that has worked with the military to develop basic rider courses for cruisers and sport bikes, was there handing out safety literature and answering questions.

"We're thankful to the military for sounding a call for a sport bike course. We wouldn't have a civilian course without the military," said Al Hydeman, managing director of the MSF. "The military is interested in collaboration in order to save lives, and we're proud and privileged to be alongside them."

Schwantz gave a brief demonstration, where he practiced controlled braking, showing how even slight differences in speed can make a difference in braking distance. Officer Kenneth Nichols demonstrated how to stand up a fallen motorcycle.

"I've heard all about the numbers of motorcycle fatalities in the military, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to help those go down," Schwantz said. "A bike needs to be treated with the same respect and discipline as a high-powered weapon."

The event also featured a motorcycle rodeo where riders raced to see who could put on their helmet, gloves and jackets, start their bikes and weave them through the cones in the least amount of time. Arlington County Police Officers Jeremy Rima and Ralph Rice also participated.

The event was designed to be a fun afternoon, but also to stress the importance of safely riding motorcycles. The event is a precursor to the 101 Critical Days of Summer, which is designed to keep servicemembers safe during the summer months, whether on duty or on leave.

"I've heard servicemembers called 'adrenaline junkies,' but I think they're challenge junkies," Hydeman said. "They train, drill and are tested all day, and when they get off base they're looking for another challenge. They're not trying to be dangerous, they're just trying to learn another skill, taking on another challenge."

(Editor's note: May is motorcycle safety month. Alex McVeigh writes for the Pentagram newspaper at Fort Myer, Va.)