Fixing the Problem
RETIRED SGT. 1ST CLASS CRAIG A. DAILEY
U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command
Integrated Materiel Management Center, UAS
Redstone Arsenal, Alabama
To be honest, I haven’t always been the poster child for riding safely. I’ve been fortunate enough to survive my experiences and learn from them, but not everyone is so lucky. It’s frustrating to see preliminary loss reports in my inbox telling me we’ve lost another Soldier in a motorcycle accident. Fortunately, this is a problem that can be fixed, but it’s going to take leadership, responsibility, accountability and discipline. Leadership
As a leader, I always knew when one of my Soldiers made a large purchase because they couldn’t do it without talking about it. My platoon leader (who was also a rider) and I always had the team leaders ensure their Soldiers were financially capable and mature enough to buy the bike. After that, we made sure they were sent to rider training.
It’s the same approach we take in paratrooper training. As a jumpmaster, I’d never allow a trooper onto the aircraft, much less exit it, without personally inspecting and verifying the equipment was functionally safe and properly secured. How many paratroopers exit aircraft every year without a fatality? Airborne accidents happen and people die. That’s a risk we face, but we mitigate it as best we can. Why can't we approach reducing the risks involved with riding motorcycles the same way? Responsibility
Riders and leaders both bear responsibility for senseless motorcycle accidents. In most cases, it was their own stupidity, ignorance and inexperience that killed them. I get angry having to say it, but some people aren’t mature enough to care for themselves. Once again, senior leaders are going to have to add another responsibility to their already overloaded plates. However, there are strategies for that.
First, as Soldiers return from deployments with pockets full of money, strict adherence to safety regulations must be enforced. I believe Soldiers should have to turn over the keys to their bikes until they’ve obtained their Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic RiderCourse certification. Then, a copy of their certification needs to become a part of their platoon sergeant’s leader book. Within 12 to 18 months, they should be required to show their Experienced RiderCourse card. And that leads to the next issue — accountability. Accountability
Just because your DA Form 348 qualifies you to drive a motor pool full of vehicles doesn’t mean you can waltz in and drive one you’re not certified on. No motor officer would risk his career by authorizing Soldiers to drive vehicles they’re not qualified to operate because he knows he’d be held accountable. We hold Soldiers with automobiles accountable by checking their travel plans and inspecting their vehicles before four-day weekends. Why don’t we do the same for Soldiers with motorcycles? We have rules, but there’s no accountability above the rider’s level. If we’re holding riders accountable for their actions, then we must hold ourselves accountable for ensuring they’re qualified to ride. Discipline
Accountability must include tough discipline — and that hasn’t always happened. For example, one commander I served under mandated all motorcycles be stopped at the gates and their riders inspected for personal protective equipment and MSF training cards. However, riders found in violation weren’t cited like they would be if they were driving under the influence. Instead, they were turned around and sent back into the fray lacking the knowledge and equipment to ride safely or according to regulations. Leadership should’ve required the rider to surrender their keys and impound the bike until the command issued a memorandum stating the Soldier has been disciplined (a post traffic fine or Article 15 for failure to follow an order) and trained.
If leaders truly care about Soldiers, they must get tough to stop these senseless deaths. It’s a terrible loss for families and units when Soldiers return home safely after a year or more in combat only to kill themselves during the first three months they’re back. These Soldiers were someone’s responsibility. They were all defenders of our nation and died because of negligence and complacency. Bottom line
It’s time to hold commanders, NCOs and Soldiers responsible and accountable and use tough discipline where needed. Until then, it’s like sending troopers out the door without checking their chutes.