FORT POLK, La. — The lure of the open road has enticed motorcycle enthusiasts, with a soul for adventure, since an engine was added to two wheels. But along with the thrill of the ride comes a responsibility to travel the roads safely.
That’s why Fort Polk hosted a Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month Safety Ride May 26 that began at the installation’s old commissary parking lot. The ride —which meandered down to Oakdale and Oberlin and then headed back by way of Sugartown and concluded at Fort Polk’s Alligator Lake — was for active duty, reserve, Family members, retirees, veterans, Department of the Army civilians and Fort Polk contractors.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Brendon Murphy, 1st Battalion, 5th Aviation Regiment Battalion aviation materiel officer and the installation’s Motorcycle Program mentor, said the ride not only promotes an atmosphere of esprit de corps and community, but also helps instill the principles of motorcycle safety.
Since 2017, the Army has lost an average of 25 Soldiers each year to motorcycle mishaps.
Col. Sam Smith, Fort Polk garrison commander, attended the event and kicked things off by talking to riders about the importance of safety.
“I want you to have a great day and enjoy your ride, so it’s important to pay attention to your speed and other safety skills to avoid mishaps,” he said.
Murphy said excessive speed — exceeding the posted limit or going too fast for the conditions, was cited in fatal motorcycle accidents 52% of the time. For Solders, that number is 20% higher than the national average.
One way to encourage safety in the ranks is through the installation’s Motorcycle Mentor program.
Sgt. 1st Class Demarcus Allen, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, is a post motorcycle mentor, as well as 3rd BCT, 10th Mtn Div motorcycle mentor. He and his fellow mentors make sure young Soldiers new to motorcycle riding learn about safety while riding.
Allen said the mentor program is all about putting people first.
“We are giving new riders the skills and resources necessary to be successful motorcycle riders, as well as Army Soldiers,” he said. “We teach, coach and mentor what to do on a motorcycle, as well as what not to do.”
Allen said mentors teach new riders things like proper safety wear, obeying traffic laws and more.
“I also encourage them to ride on a track. The skills they practice and learn there can transfer from the track to the street. It’s a safe venue to become competent in their abilities and make them safer riders,” he said.
Allen said events like this allow riders to mingle with mentors who are going to ride correctly and teach by doing.
“These leaders care and want young Soldiers to be safe,” he said.
Rico Williams, Fort Polk Command Safety Office safety director, said there was a mixed bag of inexperienced and experienced riders taking part in the safety ride.
“Inexperienced riders, with four or five months on a motorcycle under their belt, look up to riders with 15 to 20 years of experience,” he said.
Williams said that’s why mentors are so important when teaching young riders about safety.
“In addition, we give a safety brief before they ever leave the installation.”
Another way Williams said to maintain safe conditions on the ride is to keep the groups of motorcycle riders smaller.
“They will leave in groups of six to 10 riders,” he said.
Williams said a ride like this is important because it shows those young riders what right looks like.
“When they ride with their peers and mentors, they are less likely to take their cues from popular culture like YouTube videos and television shows,” he said.
Sgt. Thomas Perrette, 573rd Clearance Company, 46th Engineer Battalion, said he thinks the mentor program meets its intent.
“Mentors get the point across to new riders by focusing on telling them not to do dumb things and stay safe,” he said.
Perrette said he was impressed that the ride had a large number of participants.
“That shows that Soldiers and the Army are on the same page when it comes to safety issues,” he said.
1st Lt. Matthew Campbell, 573rd Clearance Company, 46th Engineer Battalion, said he hasn’t been able to get out and ride enough lately because work is keeping him busy.
“So this is a great opportunity for me. I’ve been looking forward to it,” he said.
Campbell said riding gives him a feeling of freedom and he loves dealing with the mechanics of the machine.
“When I ride, I become one with my motorcycle,” he said.
Staff Sgt. Jermal Dubose, 46th Engineer Battalion, said there is something relaxing about taking part in an event with a group of people who love doing the same thing as much as you do.
“It’s therapy for me. It gives me a chance to unwind when my stress gets to be too much,” he said.