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Set Them Straight

Set Them Straight


The adrenaline rushes through your body, making you feel invincible. The wind is in your face and the world at your feet. The seemingly unlimited power at your fingertips is intoxicating. These are the things I felt when I rode my first motorcycle at age 11. It never occurred to me how inherently dangerous it was as I tore up the hills behind my childhood home.

Motorcycle safety was never a priority; it was just something that came along with riding. I always made sure I was in the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) — leather over-the-ankle boots, long pants, full-fingered gloves, DOT-approved helmet and, of course, my trusty motorcycle jacket. But I never felt unsafe flying down the freeway at 120 mph or splitting lanes in traffic. I figured as long as I was aware and on guard constantly, my gear would protect me if something were to happen.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I ever felt fear while on a motorcycle. It was mid-afternoon and I was riding with a buddy through downtown. We were staggered a bit with him in the lead. As we crossed through an intersection, a city bus began turning left directly in front of us. One second my friend was next to me, the next he was through the front windshield of that bus. It literally swallowed him whole.

I managed to avoid the collision and not lose control of my bike. My heart was pounding as I dismounted and ran to my friend’s aid. Expecting the worst, I was astonished he only suffered minor cuts and lacerations. All I could think was, “He’s going to walk away from this!” That’s when I realized how lucky he’d been. If he wasn’t wearing a proper helmet and other PPE, he would have suffered much more serious injuries — possibly even life threatening — as his body was protected from the glass by his motorcycle jacket. At that moment, motorcycle safety became a priority because I realized it could have easily been me.

Jump ahead three years and I was sitting in a 10-week safety training course. As the motorcycle safety portion came up, I zoned out. It seemed obvious, right? Riding a motorcycle can be dangerous. If anyone knows this, it’s a Soldier. Training courses must be completed, inspections must be performed and so on. I assumed everyone was aware of motorcycle safety. I was wrong.

Later that day, I met a private first class who recently bought a Yamaha R6. As we gathered around admiring his new ride, I couldn’t help but notice he was wearing shorts, a T-shirt and sneakers. I wondered how he got the bike to where we were, but I never considered he had ridden it while dressed so poorly. That was my mistake. Not only did he ride like that, but it was also a common occurrence.

I was dumbfounded. How could this E-3 not understand the stupidity of his actions? Then the bomb dropped. In addition to not wearing the proper PPE, he didn’t even have a license — nor had he taken the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Basic RiderCourse, which is required by the Army. I laid into this guy about what an unnecessary risk he was taking, not only with his life but the lives of others.

I walked away feeling as though I hadn’t gotten through to him. I thought about reporting him. After all, I knew his name, rank and what command he was under. I considered it for the next few days until I heard the news. The same private I yelled at was in an accident. I instantly thought he had either died or suffered major injuries. I was surprised to learn he had walked away uninjured. It had to be luck.

The next day, I saw the Soldier and he approached me. It turns out I had gotten through to him because he had gone out and bought the required PPE and signed up for the Basic RiderCourse. He said I saved his life by calling him out on the foolish decisions he was making. I told him it wasn’t me; it was himself. We are all responsible for our own actions and lives. As William Ernest Henley said, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

If you see a Soldier who is failing to do the right thing, speak up and set them straight. Who knows what would have happened to this private had he not been wearing his PPE that day. I doubt the end result would have been so favorable. Ride safe!

  • 1 December 2023
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 154
  • Comments: 0
Categories: Off-DutyPMV-2