By SPC Jared Eastman, 1HBCT Public AffairsMay 19, 2011
FORT STEWART, Ga. - In these difficult economic times, few take the opportunity to avail themselves of a principle our very nation was founded upon- exploration. For most, the lure of the open road is forestalled by rising gas prices.
But for some cultures, the narrow roads portends adventure and new experiences. One such culture is the motorcycle community, whether taking the form of a grime-covered pack of cruisers or a troop of finely tuned sport bikes.
Soldiers have a cherished history with vehicles of the two-wheeled variety, both roisterous and tranquil.
However, for the Soldiers of the 3rd Brigade Support Battalion, safety is more important than whether one is yin or yang in the motorcycle milieu. To emphasize that, they had a motorcycle safety stand down inside one of their maintenance facilities.
"This is a very important event," said Lt. Col. Miles Townsend, 3rd BSB commander. "I'm glad that you guys came down here. What it tells me is that you're serious about doing the right thing and being safe out on the road. In order for you guys to ride and get out on the road, I have to look each one of you in the eye and make sure you are going to follow all the rules and regulations.
What I didn't want to do was interview the mentors on different days, so I wanted to bring everyone together."
The safety stand-down day is a common event throughout the Army. Each battalion has a head motorcycle safety mentor, along with multiple mentors, that coach new riders in the basic and finer points of riding a motorcycle.
"The importance of the event is just to help Soldiers become more aware of things they need to do before, during and after they go out riding," said Chief Warrant Officer Eric Hollis, 3rd BSB automotive technician and battalion motorcycle mentor. "We're also trying to bring back some of those fundamentals that we learned in the basic rider's course. There are also a lot of updated policies and laws, and we want to bring it to the Soldiers' attention."
For this safety stand down, Hollis secured the services of two local shop owners with a combined experience of over 50 years of riding. Shawn "Alaska" Haines of Custom Culture in Hinesville, and Leon Williams of Polished Accessories were both happy to help the battalion. While both of them spoke to Soldiers about general preventative maintenance, each one was able to give insight to their more respective fields, whether cruiser or sport bike.
"A couple of the Soldiers here are customers at my store and Chief Hollis asked me to come out and talk with the Soldiers," said Alaska. "My wife is a Soldier, so I'm all about supporting them."
For Alaska, another important component of motorcycle safety is wearing Personal Protective Equipment. "One of the topics today was wearing the proper PPE," he said, "It is there to help you in the event of an accident. The preventative maintenance you do on your bike is to ensure proper working order, just like how your vest is bright and your helmet isn't cracked."
Soldiers who want to ride motorcycles are required to go through a Motorcycle Safety Course, which helps build basic safety fundamentals.
"The most important thing I would tell a Soldier about attending the Motorcycle Safety Course, whether they have ridden before or not, is to listen to the instructors," said Chief Hollis. "No matter how much experience you have with a motorcycle there is always someone out there that knows more than you. Once you have gone through the course, you can also go back and practice with them. The instructors will come in on a weekend if they have to, [that's how passionate they are]."
Once a Soldier completes the course, choosing a motorcycle can be a daunting task.
"Get a bike that you're comfortable with," Alaska said, "So you can get a feel for the bike. If you know the bike you're riding you will be better off. After all, a motorcycle is part of you. You don't sit in a motorcycle; you are on the motorcycle and part of it. Your body motions control how that bike reacts."
However, whether you end up with a 90s Honda Goldwing, a custom chopper, or are lucky enough to get your hands on a Brough Superior SS100, the motorcycle community always welcomes a new recruit with open arms.
"Being in the military we are all one team, one fight, one Family, no matter what type of bike you have," Chief Hollis said. "For those that don't ride bikes, you'll notice that riders wave to one another regardless of what bike they're on."
With summer just around the corner, more brigades and battalions are conducting safety stand-downs and safety rides to ensure their Soldiers are experienced and ready for any challenge they may face on the road. Motorcycles and the Army haven't always gotten along, but over time the Army has championed them, providing Soldiers with safety courses and safety events such as these.
"It wasn't too many years ago that commanders like me discouraged Soldiers from riding motorcycles," said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Denius, 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment commander, at the last brigade-wide safety stand down. "It was too dangerous. Just like we mitigate risk during combat operations, instead of discouraging motorcycle riding we've embraced it. We developed programs that allowed Soldiers to gain the fundamental skills they need to be safe and responsible riders."