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The 315 Riders

The 315 Riders

10th Combat Aviation Brigade
Fort Drum, New York

The 315 Riders — is that the name of a motorcycle club from the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, who claim the area code 315? It’s not a bad name, but it’s not very original either. But, hey, when have Army clubs ever had original names? Unfortunately, as much as I wish it was, this isn’t the name of a motorcycle club. It’s the number of PMV-2 Preliminary Loss Reports (PLRs) that were released from 2012 till the day I wrote this article in February 2022. Each PLR captures the loss of a Soldier’s life. Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to sound all doom and gloom, but c’mon, man! At some point, at some level, something’s got to give so we can reduce these mishaps.

Like a lot of Soldiers I know, I started riding after returning from a deployment. We thought the sky was falling when we saw gas prices at $3.18 per gallon. (Oh, how I’d love to see gas that cheap again). After crunching some numbers, I realized I could actually save a few bucks each month by riding a gas-sipping two-wheeler.

While the other first-time riders in my unit were forking over cash for some solid-performing street bikes like the R-6, RSV and such, I decided to go with a truly beginner-friendly Yamaha V-Star 650. I know what you’re thinking, but I’ve always had somewhat of an old soul when it comes to design, so I enjoyed it. When asking other riders why they chose sport bikes, the common answers were speed, power-to-weight ratio, agility and so on. To me, that seemed like overkill for the speed limits in the areas surrounding Fort Bragg, North Carolina, but to each their own.

Despite what you might think, I’m not writing this article to bash sport bikes. I actually enjoy riding them. In fact, my daily commuter is a Honda VFR800. While it may not be an all-out sport bike, it’s certainly fast enough to get a person into trouble and an absolute blast to ride on the twisty roads in the Adirondacks. Bringing up sport bikes was more of an attempt to bring attention to a mentality. Within that first year of motorcycle ownership, several riders in my unit wrecked their bikes. The main causal factors were speed and inexperience.

I’ll admit that I probably seem like a bore, but the need for speed and such a show of bravado made no sense to me. We all have jobs to do and the responsibilities that come with it. What would cause someone to take such chances with their life and career in an attempt to impress or feel the rush that they crave?

I recently spoke to a young Soldier in our formation about how great it is riding here in upstate New York. He then informed me that he was the Soldier who, just two years ago and immediately after a deployment, wrecked his motorcycle and spent time in the hospital with several broken bones and a concussion. When I asked what happened, it almost seemed like he was boasting about the multiple concussions he’s had in his life and the amount of performance-enhancing parts on all of his vehicles. Furthermore, his attempt to justify that wheelies from a stoplight are perfectly fine as long as you don’t break the speed limit had my mind whirling. Thinking back to my old unit after my first deployment, this young Soldier’s words could have been a verbatim script of my friends’ antics.

Is this just the typical response of that oh-so-famous “target age group?” Surely there’s more to it than just being a hormonal adolescent who’s not happy unless their hair is on fire going Mach 2. As leaders, what should we do when faced with situations like this within our purview? How can we get ahead of this rising death toll?

I can hear it now: “Have the commander ban the Soldier’s on-post riding privileges!” OK, then they’ll only ride off post and we’ll lose all visibility. Next, please.

“Counsel the Soldier about the ramifications of their reckless behaviors.” Sure, I’ll buy that, and it can be a really good chat and a “CYA,” but is that really going to drive it home to the point of action? Who knows?

As leaders, whether active-duty, Reserves or National Guard, there are many tools we have at our disposal to ensure these Soldiers know we have our eyes on them. That’s great, and I encourage each of you to use those techniques in an attempt to reduce motorcycle fatalities. At the end of the day, though, no amount of paperwork or rider packets are going to change a culture. There has to be something more.

I believe the Army has done a great service to its riders by offering training programs, such as those provided by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), at no cost to the Soldier. These courses provide fantastic initial and sustainment training and go to great lengths to mitigate the risk involved with riding a motorcycle. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a great number of very skilled instructors who want to share their knowledge to save lives and help an ever-growing community start, continue, improve and master the ride. While it sometimes may be difficult to find open class dates, get with your Motorcycle Mentorship Program managers. They’ll be able to help find ways to train your Soldiers.

While rider training is an absolute vital piece of the puzzle, I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg. What happens when the rider leaves the confines of the training range? That’s where the focus needs to be placed. I know this may come as a shock to some, but I don’t have all the answers, and personally, I’m OK with that. To borrow an old adage, “If you’re ever the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” So, with that in mind, let’s expand that room.

The purpose of this article was never to give this revolutionary way to change the culture among the riders within our formations, or to give the readers, who have stuck around this long, a magic phrase that will temper the “need for speed.” Rather, I just want to bring awareness to the issue and hopefully spark some conversations. I’d like to issue a challenge to the leaders who are reading this. Talk to people, ask questions and find a subject matter expert in your unit. Then, let the target audience find the fix. Each of our units are totally different in regard to locality, mission and mentality. I’ve been around long enough to realize that most of what works in one place won’t have the same effect in another. However, one method that has shown consistency in results is letting the target group of any issue find its own plan to resolution.

There are many resources out there. Army Techniques Publication 5-19, Risk Management, has a great number of tools to use with your junior Soldiers who may not understand second- and third-order effects of a single decision. Each unit has people from all walks of life and differing experiences, so tap into them. If there’s anything I’ve learned during my last few years, it’s that having an open dialogue with your formation works. As an organization, let’s put our heads together and find something that helps curb this terrible trend. We’re leaders and have a responsibility to our Soldiers, units and nation. I can’t wait to see what ideas you come up with.

Editor’s note: Since the author wrote this article in February, there have been 10 additional Army PMV-2 fatalities.

  • 3 July 2022
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 358
  • Comments: 0
Categories: Off-DutyPMV-2