News: Motorcycle safety course takes riders to a whole new level
Story by Lance Cpl. Brian Woodruff
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. — Although many Marines enjoy a variety of pastimes, not all of them are as potentially dangerous as motorcycle riding.
Inexperience in riding, excessive speed and improper wear of personal protective equipment all contributed to more motorcycle-related fatalities in 2008 than the Marine Corps sustained in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In order to combat this problem, the Marine Corps has instituted a number of safety initiatives for Marines to improve their defensive driving skills and general safety knowledge. Such steps included mandatory basic safety courses for all prospective motorcycle riders and unit riding clubs.
Recognizing that even experienced riders sometimes need a refresher, the pilot version of the Moto Mark 1 course was launched at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., Sept. 13-19.
The new course is designed for veteran riders with at least a few years experience, and its first participants were handpicked by their commands because of their character as a Marine, their riding skills, as well as their participation in past courses.
The most important thing the new program focuses on is the mentoring of new motorcycle riders.
"We do really well at the training part, but the part that's missing right now in this community is the mentoring part," said Stanley J. Dutko Jr., Director of Safety, Marine Corps Instillations East. "We want to create an atmosphere where Marines can talk and share ideas within the motorcycle community but we want to have a few competent people that are certified through courses like this who can take Marines out and do assessments and improve their skills."
After Marines return from the course, they are certified as a motorcycle safety assessor and can use their new skills to assess the riding skills of other riders and mentor them on how they can improve their safety and driving skills.
Although mentoring is the main focus, a lot of the course just contains practical application. Riders work their way through several difficult obstacles including the Iron Cross and the Figure Eight.
The Iron Cross simulates an intersection where Marines must make tight a 90-degree turn, then make an immediate U-turn. It requires a great deal of skill and balance, and every single Marine who tried it for the first time failed, even those who had been riding in excess of 20 years.
"This isn't your mother's motorcycle course," said Mark Brown, founder of the course.
As the drivers negotiated the obstacles on the course, three instructors clad in yellow jackets raced around the course honking, yelling and generally harassing the drivers as they negotiated the course. One instructor even blew an air horn in Marines faces as they passed by, trying to disorient them.
After repetitively negotiating all the obstacles on the course despite the distractions, the Marines were put through their final test before trying out their new skills in actual traffic.
"It definitely helps us get a better sense of what its really going to be like driving out on the street, what we can expect," said Sgt. James Shaw, Maintenance Chief, 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion. "We're not just on the range in a controlled environment."
Being a former Marine, Brown understands the unique skill set needed by military members who ride motorcycles.
"We've been working with other military branches for about six years now," Brown said. "This course is designed specifically for the military, to the types of people service members are."
"They are usually a bit more prone to take risks," he continued. "We want them to be equipped to take only the right ones."
The course may be difficult, with students in the classroom and riding an average of 11 hours a day, but for these Marines it's still all about camaraderie and encouragement.
"Especially for the first few days when we weren't doing so hot, we really worked hard to encourage each other and cheer each other on," said Miles Bowman, a Tactical Safety Specialist for the 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.
At the end of the day, the Marines packed up their gear and went home, sweaty and exhausted. Although they lost energy and hours that could have been spent on other things, they gained the confidence to face any hazard on the road and that may save many more lives in the future.
For more information on the II Marine Expeditionary Force, visit the unit's web site at www.iimefpublic.usmc.mil.