News: Army Guard mandates certification for motorcyclists
Story by Master Sgt. Michael Smith
ARLINGTON, Va. - Alaska Army National Guard Sgt. Danny Morse and his Guard friends ride motorcycles through the Alaska interior outside their gate at Fort Greely.
Aside from the occasional moose crossing, their rides are scenic, open and far from the police radar.
As good as that sounds, some sport bikes can easily push to speeds of over 150 mph, which leaves safe riding to personal skill and judgment.
"The [Soldiers] here have what I call the 'knee-draggers,' or 'crotch rockets,'" said Morse. "My buddy and I are the only two left with cruisers."
So Morse and his riding buddies use training and diligence to ride safe when no one is watching, he said. They keep themselves in check as they would any battle buddy. Their commander also mandates a Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Rider Course.
The unit's efforts seem a shining example of safe ridership, but much of the lower 48 is still catching up to that, said Army Guard officials here. And a national trend in high-performance motorcycles and inexperienced riders has them very concerned.
Fort Greely's exclusive fulltime Guard staff is considered one of the easier Guard units upon which to impose safe rider practices and training.
The challenge, said officials, is to get the nation's weekend warriors riding responsibility between formations.
Sport-bike rider certification courses and specific rider regulations for guard members are the latest efforts to protect the nation's citizen-soldiers, who ride motorcycles.
Regardless of their duty status, all guard members must now take the MSF Basic Rider Course and wear helmets and other protective equipment while riding on and off post.
And, as the states and territories put more accessible training programs online, it will come down to Soldiers, leaders, friends and family members to urge riders to get better equipped for the road, said Army Guard officials.
"Most people would never let their fellow Soldier, friend, son or daughter get on some of the fastest motorcycles ever made without any equipment or knowledge of what it can do ... until they find out too late," said John Cicilese, a safety specialist at the Army Guard's Readiness Center, who reviews accident and incident statistics.
He added that's akin to "deploying a service member into combat with no body armor and no knowledge of their weapon."
And the fact that more guard members died in motorcycle accidents last year (36) than in Iraq (25) has many here taking further actions.
In monetary terms, Cicilese said his office tells those who will listen that a few days of motorcycle safety training and the $150 fee for a rider course is a small price compared to the monies it takes to train a new Soldier. Some estimates list that cost at more than $1 million.
MSF rider training is also universal. But the states' and territories' differing written and practical tests for a motorcycle license do not necessarily bear out the skill to operate a high-output motorcycle like a sport bike, said Cicilese.
So the Army Guard hosted a Military Sport Bike Rider course at Fort Rucker, Ala., in January, with the goal of training sport-bike rider coaches for the field. More courses are planned for the other states.
The guard members, who are experienced riders and Basic Rider Course graduates from several states, learned riding strategies unique to sport bikes including attitude and risk assessment, and braking and cornering techniques.
When added to other courses, hopes here are to seed the Guard with experienced, responsible riders that can mentor the younger and less experienced riders.
"Make it your business to know who owns a bike now and who is in the process of purchasing one. Ask yourself, ' who will be the next rider in my formation to have a motorcycle accident?'" the Army Guard's deputy director, Maj. Gen. James Nuttall, said in a memo to his Soldiers last summer.
Nuttall said he wrote the memo, because he is concerned about the increase in motorcycle fatalities. "I have been a motorcycle rider for more than four decades and have a great passion for riding," he told his Soldiers.
Nuttall also took the National Guard's specially designed "Patriot Chopper" in a group ride through the streets of the District of Columbia last Memorial Day weekend to spread his message.
The flashy red, white and blue motorcycle built by Orange County Chopper rumbled past the attention of thousands of onlookers. There, Nuttall took the opportunity to stress the importance he places on safe riding practices
Today, Cicilese said he will continue to monitor the Guard's accident reports sent from the states. He said his office empowers the field with as much information as it can, but really comes down their message sinking in with Soldiers, like those in Alaska, just out for a ride.
"When you get a fatality, you lost the game," he said.