FORT HOOD, Texas - The growl of engines replaced the usually calm morning atmosphere on the III Corps parade field Thursday as more than 700 motorcyclists convened in front of the III Corps Headquarters building for the seventh annual Phantom Thunder Mentorship Ride. The event attracted riders of all kinds of motorcycles, from fat Harley Davidsons to sleek sport bikes. Lined up and parked two to three deep before the ride began, the sea of polished chrome and carbon fiber stretched around the entire paved half-mile running loop.
Coordinated by the 89th Military Police Brigade, the event is held each year to demonstrate to the community Fort Hood’s commitment to motorcycle safety.
“I’m stoked for this,” said Spc. Cheyn Turberville, of Citrus Hills, Cali., a Soldier with 1st Brigade, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, as he was checking the ride route on a huge map that was hung over the side of a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle. “I’ve never done a ride this big. It’s cool to see all the bikes, and it’s way cooler than doing our regular duties.”
“We get to ride motorcycles during the duty day! How can you complain about that?” said Command Sgt. Maj. Peter Ladd, the brigade Command Sergeant Major for the 89th Military Police Brigade. “This is a chance for all the Soldiers, all the family members, and all the civilians that work and play on Fort Hood to get together and promote motorcycle awareness.”
“It’s awesome,” said Chief Warrant Officer Two Robert Hill, an Unmanned Aerial Systems Operations Officer for 1st Cavalry Division, leaning on his custom U.S. Army-themed bike, complete with army green paint job and hand grenade-shaped backrest. “Everybody talks about Phantom Thunder having 1000 riders, so I wasn’t surprised by the turnout today.”
Ladd was quick to point out that, even though the event had a lighter tone, it was formally a training exercise, no different than going to the weapons qualifying range or doing physical training, and so it was treated as such.
“Motorcycle mentorship is not like going out and getting a license for a car,” said Ladd. “There are obvious hazards with a motorcycle. Part of the mentorship program is creating awareness to what are the current policies and procedures that the Army is telling us that we as Soldiers and motorcycle riders have to adhere by.”
Classes offered through the program include ones that teach the proper wear and use of equipment, qualification courses for basic riders and advanced riders, sports bike rider courses, and redeployment courses, said Ladd.
“It’s really designed to keep the Soldiers safe, and to enjoy themselves while riding,” he said.
“I think rides like this help a great deal,” said Sgt. David Leese, the current Chemical, Biological,Radiological and Nuclear non-commissioned officer for the office of plans, operations and training, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division, whose motorcycle was festooned with POW/MIA logos, the American flag, and a license plate that read “Army 1”.
“[The Phantom Thunder Ride] helps esprit de corps,” he said, gesturing to the hundreds of bikes parked to either side of him. “But it also emphasizes the amount of motorcycles that are out there. On a daily basis you might see five or ten, but not this many.”
This year, the route took the bikers into the rolling green hill country South of Killeen to the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery. The motorcycles pulled through the gates two-by-two and parked methodically, building a mechanized wall that wrapped through the entire cemetery, contrasting with the green manicured lawns and immaculate rows of white gravestones.
The riders dismounted and gathered en masse at the northeast corner of the graveyard, where a U.S. Army Honor Guard had been standing stoically throughout the Rolling Thunder’s long entrance, under a tall flagpole flying a black Prisoner of War flag that waved gently in the afternoon breeze.
Here, a wreath was unveiled and a moment of silence observed for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
“Veterans day is right around the corner,” said Ladd. “So this has special meaning to us because most of us are veterans.”
“Our ability to ride motorcycles right now is in direct correlation to all those veterans who gave their life,” he said. “This is our way of saying thank you, and it also represents our commitment to pave that way for future generations.”
After the ceremony, the riders filed slowly out of the cemetery for the return ride back to Fort Hood. The event ended in exact accordance with Army motorcycle safety standards, with all participants completing the ride safely, and zero accidents reported.