By Sgt. Robert Schaffner, JrDecember 16, 2010
FORT STEWART, Ga. A blinding, bright-red chrome Harley Davidson stands out amongst the dozen smaller foreign bikes sitting in the distance, as a seemingly average-looking group of new motorcycle enthusiasts prepare to ride on a clear, but bitter cold and windy day, Dec. 10.
No, this isn't the meeting of some special motorcycle club; but, for one particular future rider, the experience is special. The group is attending a motorcycle safety course, a requirement all Soldiers must meet to operate a motorcycle.
In this particular class of beginner riders is Staff Sgt. Brandon Wooldridge, an infantryman assigned to 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, who is familiar with overcoming immense odds. After losing his lower left leg in a firefight in Iraq in late 2004, then-Spc. Wooldridge won his lengthy battle to stay in the Army as an infantryman in 2006.
He continues the fight to live the life of an every-day Soldier.
"I have never ridden before," Staff Sgt. Wooldridge said at the course. "I had always wanted to ride. Lots of my friends back home ride, so now I thought was as good a time as any."
Staff Sergeant Wooldridge is obviously no ordinary Soldier; however, at first glance, his Fat Boy motorcycle appears to be very ordinary - it's not.
"A buddy back home, Gary Manson, installed an electric shifter for me, because he knew I always wanted to ride," Staff Sgt. Wooldridge said as he pointed to his motorcycle wearing his helmet adorning a decal which clearly identifies his service in Iraq. "When I pull in the clutch I push a button up or down and the bike shifts for you."
Staff Sergeant Wooldrige's eagerness to ride has raised some eyebrows.
"Staff Sergeant Wooldridge is my first student with a prosthetic," said Michael Mansfield, lead instructor of the Army Traffic Safety Program for Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield "When I first heard about Staff Sgt. Wooldridge taking the course, I had a concern ... I understood he had a prosthetic limb and I was mainly concerned he would be able to support the motorcycle and what kind of special considerations to take into account. Then I learned he would be providing his own motorcycle and that he would have shift capabilities with his hand."
Support for Staff Sgt. Wooldrige's new riding dream has not always been a smooth ride. One Family Member is, unsurprisingly, not as optimistic to the future Hog-rider's dream.
"My mom wasn't so happy," said Staff Sgt. Wooldridge said with a shrug. "But, what mother is'"
But he gets support where he needs it most - at home.
"My wife is happy, because I have been bugging her about getting a bike," Staff Sgt. Wooldridge said. "She is looking forward to me learning to ride so that she can ride with me."
As for the extended Family - his fellow Soldiers - the support has been immense.
"Honestly, I think it is great that (Staff Sgt. Wooldridge) has the drive to continue to do something that he loves," said Spc. Kyle Short, a Calvary Scout assigned to Troop B, 5th Squadron, 7th Calvary Regiment, 1st HBCT, 3rd ID. "It is great that he gets out here and (learns to ride) and is not letting (the amputation) hold him back.
"Staff Sergeant Wooldrige shows other Soldiers to keep driving - don't let up, don't give up at all, just keep going," said Spc. Short.
For the rider himself, he hopes that his example shows others that anything is possible.
"There is no reason you can't do anything you want," Staff Sgt. Wooldridge said. "Whether it's ride a bike or run a marathon."