MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – Approximately 20 percent of men and women within Headquarters USSOCOM have registered as motorcyclists and SOCOM’s safety officials say, during most years, motorcycle fatalities are the number one cause of accidental deaths across the command.
Nationwide statistics from the National Highway Transportation and Safety Agency reveal that USSOCOM is not alone. Thousands of riders die in crashes each year while tens of thousands more are injured.
“When you peel it back and look at the reasons why people have motorcycle accidents, it comes down to a lot of different reasons – training being one of them,” said Mike Russell, USSOCOM director of safety.
Of the approximate 500 Florida motorcyclists who died in motorcycle crashes in 2012, 90 percent of those riders had not taken a motorcycle safety course, or had taken the basic course, just to get licensed. Continuing rider safety courses is imperative, stressed Russell.
“They take the basic course and think that now they are good to ride,” said Russell. “They get out there and ride, they develop bad habits, and they don’t continue to improve their defensive riding skills.”
When riders haven’t continued to develop these crucial skills, Russell adds, they may find themselves in life threatening situations and they don’t have the breaking, swerving or cornering skills necessary to avoid a crash.
Thanks to the support of USSOCOM leadership and dedicated volunteers like Russell, and his “RiderCoaches,” USSOCOM’s safety office is able to offer a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) Basic Rider Course (BRC) and more advanced courses at no-cost to active duty military, guard, reserve and DoD civilians. Dependents and retirees can also attend on a space available basis.
“Riding motorcycles is something that I’ve always wanted to do and the class just lined up perfectly with my schedule,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Brian Roub, Joint Communications Support Element (JCSE) vehicle fleet manager. “It’s great for beginners because the instructors were really good at breaking it down so that anybody could just pick it up.”
“I have a lot of friends and coworkers who ride bikes and they always talked about how much fun it was,” said Army Sgt. René DeBlanc, watch noncommissioned officer, U.S. Central Command. “I finally decided that it was a good time for me to experience it and see if I would like it or not.”
Cornering and learning to properly maneuver through turns were the most memorable parts of the course, said DeBlanc.
“It’s challenging at first, but you learn to trust the (training) process, trust the system, and trust yourself,” said DeBlanc.
Not all riders are first-timers; Army Lt. Col. April Critelli, JCSE medical director, has been riding motorcycles for about five years, but attended the course in preparation for riding in Florida.
“In New York, the riding season is short, but here in Tampa it’s year-round,” said Critelli. “I’m newly stationed here in Tampa and I just wanted to get a refresher before I get back out on the road.”
“I plan on buying a bike as soon as possible,” said DeBlanc with a smile. “This has been a great experience for me and I can’t wait to get on the road.”
After completing the BRC, Russell said, riders should take what they’ve learned and continue to practice in a non-threatening environment. It also helps to find an experienced person -- someone whom you trust, to ride with.
“While legally (after completing the BRC) you have the certificates, the license, and can ride in rush-hour traffic in downtown Tampa,” said Russell, “You are not ready to do that. The BRC is really designed as the beginning of your motorcycle riding education.”
Operating a motorcycle really is a continuous learning experience, stressed Russell.
“Eventually, when they are comfortable riding in traffic, they should take another riding course,” said Russell.
Russell sends notifications of upcoming classes through official email channels. The safety office offers the BRC, BRC2 (formally known as the Experienced Rider Course), Advanced Rider Course (ARC), Military Sport Bike Rider Course (MSRC), and additional courses for more experienced riders.
Russell encourages all riders, potential riders and even non-riders to attend the BRC. The safety office also provides the motorcycles and helmets for the course.