By MASTER SGT. JOHN COLLINS, G3 Operations, U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center, Fort Rucker, Ala. July 30, 2012
The answers to these questions are particularly important when commanders are wondering what they should be looking for when choosing experienced riders to serve as mentors for their motorcycle mentorship program. Leaders are confronted with these issues every time there is talk about MMPs within the Army. Unfortunately, there is no clear definition in a regulation, field manual or motorcycle handbook. In practice, identifying an experienced rider is like defining what makes some Soldiers natural leaders; nobody can tell you what it is, but everybody recognizes it when they see it.
So how do you know when you're looking at an experienced rider? To do that, you must first address a few misconceptions. One is that if a rider has owned a motorcycle for a long time but only ridden it a couple of months each year, they are experienced riders. Similarly, just because a Soldier rides a few miles to work and home every day on the same route doesn't make him or her an experienced rider. These are examples of experienced owners, not experienced riders.
Another misconception is if you are senior in rank and ride a motorcycle, then you are an experienced rider in the unit. Again, this is not always true because many people decide to start riding in their 30s and haven't been riding for all that long. Rank does not make experience. Riding time does.
For units to recognize this can be a challenge. We naturally tend to assign the senior-ranking individual to be the senior mentor for the unit. However, just because you are a leader in the Army does not qualify you as the most experienced person to mentor younger riders.
Unfortunately, sometimes our pride gets in the way, making it hard to listen to guidance from a younger, junior Soldier who is more experienced on two wheels.
Over the years I have served, I've realized that we, as leaders, don't always have the answer to every problem. Since there is no cookie cutter pattern for identifying experienced riders, here are a few things to consider when selecting mentors for your unit. First, look at how you conduct day-to-day business in your unit. You use individuals with loads of experience to train and prepare Soldiers for their missions; why not do the same with your MMP?
Second, understand the need to select mentors based on their experience with certain types of motorcycles. A perfect example is to look at aviators -- you don't have UH-60 Black Hawk pilots training AH-64 Apache pilots. Why isn't the same process used when selecting mentors for motorcycle riders? Units can follow the same concept by selecting a mentor for each of the two primary types of bikes -- sport bikes and cruisers.
These two types of motorcycles handle differently and require different skill sets. Many riders don't have experience on both types of bikes, so a single mentor for both types of riders may not be the best choice. The more specific experience and knowledge mentors have to lead the program, the stronger they can make it.
Third, an experienced rider must also be one who knows the Army standards for safe operation; practices safe and disciplined riding at all times; and can be the example of responsible riding while they mentor other riders in a unit. These are only a few recommendations for units to consider when selecting mentors and don't reflect all the criteria needed.
The truth is experienced riders are not always those who are senior in rank. Each unit should review a rider's history, interview the individual and select the best choice to lead their program. It may be that the specialist who began riding as a kid and progressed to larger bikes as an adult is the senior experienced rider in your unit, not necessarily a sergeant first class or the first sergeant. Experience goes a long way in training others to survive, especially on two wheels. To identify an experienced rider for your mentorship program, look at the individual, not rank.