Motorcycle riders: Do things right

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Motorcycle riders face an unfortunate and brutal reality - make a mistake and the consequences can be grave. Permanent, catastrophic disability, physical therapy or even death, are just around the next corner the rider takes too fast. 

Recently, one of our Air Commandos was injured in a motorcycle crash. Neither he nor his passenger was wearing a helmet. He got a reprieve from death and permanent disability, but he still faces consequences. What they may be remains to be seen. 

It happened because, as the commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, Lt. Gen. Donny Wurster, puts it, he didn't "do things right." 

He and his passenger should have been wearing DOT-approved helmets. No, I'm not talking about those little skid lids that some riders try to pass off as a legal helmet. 

Those "beanie" helmets - easy to spot because they conform closely to the shape of the head and only cover the top of the head - offer little-to-no protection in a crash. Believe it or not, they're novelty items and are labeled as such inside. 

A good helmet has a protective shock-absorbing materiel such as polypropylene, padding and a hard exterior. It has been rigorously tested and proven and labeled inside and outside the helmet. 

For some reason, some riders - and I've seen this throughout my 24 years of service, 28 years of riding and 12 years of teaching motorcycle safety - choose not to do things right when it comes to wearing the DoD- and Air Force-mandated protective gear. 

"In addition to the helmet, military riders and their passengers, are required to wear a brightly colored vest or jacket with reflective materials at night," said Don Beckham, AFSOC chief of ground safety. "Additionally, they have to wear impact resistant eyewear or a visor on their helmet. A long-sleeved shirt, long pants, full-fingered gloves and sturdy shoes or boots round out their required protective riding gear." 

From my standpoint, it's no longer a matter of choice. You wear the protective gear because the Air Force requires it. You chose to raise your hand and take an oath. Part of that oath is to obey orders. Military discipline is not a pick-and-choose-what-you- like buffet line. Just do things right - wear all of it all the time. 

Wearing the required protective equipment and clothing is only part of the "do things right" equation. 

Most, if not all, experts agree that 90 percent of riding a motorcycle is a mental exercise. The 10 percent of physical activities involving balance and operating the controls becomes second nature as riders become experienced with their bike. But doing things right involves keen judgment, no impairments or distractions, and the proper attitude. 

Here's a reality check - motorcycle riders are not 10-feet-tall and bulletproof. The laws of physics apply to you just as much as they apply to anyone else. Go into a turn too fast - crash. Misjudge the speed of an oncoming car and turn in front of it - crash. Accelerate too fast for the roadway and traffic conditions - crash. 

Unfortunately, there are times, like now, when riders don't do things right. That's where supervisors and commanders have to step up and "do the right thing." 

Whenever an Air Force member loses duty time due to injury or death, officials initiate a line-of-duty determination. This process identifies misconduct on the part of the mishap-involved person, said Capt. Jason Lammli, 1st Special Operations Wing assistant staff judge advocate. When the lost time is determined as "not in the line of duty," the member or the member's beneficiaries may forfeit some pays or benefits depending on the circumstances. 

A commander may initiate non-judicial punishment for an NCO who violated standards. Stripes can be taken, money lost and driving privileges may be revoked. While these punishments immediately impact the rider who was negligent, they also serve as a deterrent for other riders who may be inclined to do the wrong thing. If one rider gets smart, changes his ways and does things right, it was worth it. 

The messages are simple. 

Riders: Do things right. Protect yourself from potential injury with the mandatory protective equipment or better. Realize you are mortal. You are not a professional stunt rider. Understand there is a ceiling to your riding ability. There are limits to your bike's capabilities. The riding environment influences your path of travel. Do things right and operate within that operational envelope. 

Supervisors and commanders: Do the right thing. Know and enforce the standards. Counsel and correct your high-risk riders. Protect your most valuable resource. 

As valued members of our Air Commando family, each of us is accountable to the other. Sometimes protecting someone from harm means we have to protect them from themselves. When our people don't do things right, it's time for us to step up and do the right thing.