STAFF SGT. JESUS SOTO
210th Regional Support Group
U.S. Army Reserve Center
Aguadilla, Puerto Rico
I was 18, airborne and invincible. I’d just received my enlistment bonus and decided it was time to get some transportation. I got one of my fellow troopers at Fort Liberty, North Carolina, to take me to the nearest Suzuki dealer. I wanted to buy a 650 GSL motorcycle, but my credit wasn’t good enough to qualify for a loan, so my only option was to pay cash for a 450 GSL. Being the highly intelligent and experienced (translate that to young and dumb) person I was, I quickly purchased the motorcycle. After a short lesson on how to ride by the salesperson, I was on my way.
Within four hours, I stopped at the company orderly room to visit a friend who was pulling duty as the charge of quarters (CQ) runner. Afterward, as I was pulling out of the parking lot, I managed to dump the bike and break a blinker lens cover — not a very impressive performance for my first day of riding. It finally dawned on me that maybe there really was a good reason for taking motorcycle safety training.
Looking back, I realize how lucky I was I didn’t kill myself. The truth is I was safer jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft than I was riding on that motorcycle. I’d been trained to jump out of airplanes, but I hadn’t been trained to ride a motorcycle. There was a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) course available at the time, but my own arrogance kept me from taking it. As far as motorcycle riding goes, I was more lucky than skilled in the beginning.
Unfortunately, a young trooper who joined my fire team a couple of years later wasn’t as lucky. One day after the last formation, Pvt. Green (not his real name) asked me to help him with a decision. He’d also received a bonus for going airborne and was trying to decide whether to put the money in the bank or buy a motorcycle. A friend of his in the headquarters platoon had recently bought a bike and was encouraging him to get one so they could ride together. I told him about my riding experiences and suggested he put his money in the bank, emphasizing that would be the wisest choice. He promptly thanked me and said he agreed.
A couple of days later, he appeared with a new Honda motorcycle. I was surprised and asked him what happened. Inside I already knew the answer; he’d buckled under the pressure from his friend to buy the bike. I told him to take the rider safety course and to be careful on the road. He said he would and that he bought the most expensive helmet at the store, just in case.
About a month later, I received a call at home from the person pulling CQ duty. He told me Green had died in a motorcycle accident while riding with his friend. Apparently, a car in the left lane hit Green’s friend, who, in turn, struck him. Losing control, Green dumped the bike and struck the curb with his helmet. The impact was so strong it cracked the helmet and caused him severe head trauma. Sadly, he never even made it to the emergency room.
Green never took the motorcycle safety course. If he had, he might still be here today. His was the first memorial I’d attended where I personally knew the person that the rifle, boots and helmet represented. It was the most poignant moment in my life when I heard the roll call and he was not there to call out his name.
Things have changed a lot since I began riding. Fortunately, riders now are much more aware of the importance of riding safety. Today in the Army, we have a mandate that all Soldiers who ride must first receive MSF-based training. Yet, even so, we still suffer losses from motorcycle accidents. I still ride and always have my MSF training card on me. If Green had taken the training, maybe he’d still be riding today.
Army Regulation 385-10, The Army Safety and Occupational Health Program, Chapter 13-16, Motorcycle and all-terrain vehicles safety, and Chapter 13-17, Motorcycle training program, define the Army’s personal protective equipment and motorcycle training requirements. To view the document in its entirety, visit https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/ARN34981-AR_385-10-000-WEB-1.pdf.