Motorcycle Refresher Required for Redeploying Infantry Troops

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

FORT STEWART, Ga., June 12, 2008 - Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch lost too many soldiers during the 3rd Infantry Division's third and longest deployment to Iraq. But now that most of the division is finally home, Lynch told the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff yesterday he's not willing to take a single additional casualty to a motorcycle accident.

"I refuse to think that a soldier could deploy to combat for 15 months, then come home and get killed on a motorcycle," Lynch said during Navy Adm. Mike Mullen's visit here yesterday.

So Lynch, an avid motorcyclist who parks his prized Harley-Davidson in front of the division headquarters, requires every single soldier under his command to take an hour-and-a-half motorcycle refresher course before hitting the road on two wheels.

"Nobody's touching their motorcycle until they go through the refresher course," Lynch said.

The requirement makes good sense as troops reintegrate into the garrison environment after a tough deployment as part of the surge force, he said.

Lynch, who's been cycling for 30 years, took the refresher course himself during his first day back to Fort Stewart earlier this month.

The course includes a spin at the post's newly acquired motorcycle simulator -- the only one of its kind, not just in the United States, but in North America, Jim McCullough, installation safety director, told Mullen yesterday.

"It's pretty high-speed," Col. Todd Buchs, Fort Stewart's garrison commander, said of the full-sized device that looks like it belongs in either an arcade or amusement park. "It lets soldiers get refresher training to sharpen up those perishable skills they may have lost while they were gone before they hit the road again."

At $143,000, Lynch said, the simulator is worth every penny.

"We don't know how many lives we've saved, but we know it's had an impact," Buchs said.

Three division soldiers have been in motorcycle accidents since the division began redeploying in late March. In two of the three accidents, the motorist -- not the soldier -- was at fault, Buchs said.

Motorcycling has become increasingly popular Armywide, particularly in light of high gas prices. Officials report more than 33,000 motorcycles currently registered on Army posts.

At Fort Stewart, soldiers are "buying them left and right" now that they're home from combat, Buchs said. All must undergo mandatory training offered through the post safety office in coordination with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

Post officials recognize they're trying to buck an alarming trend. Twenty soldiers were killed in motorcycle accidents during the first six months of fiscal 2008 alone, according to Army Combat Readiness Center data. That's more than twice the number killed during the same period last year, officials said.

Last year, the Defense Department lost nearly 100 servicemembers in motorcycle accidents.

These numbers reflect a nationwide upward trend. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics show motorcycle fatalities have more than doubled during the last 10 years nationwide.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation reports that more than half of all motorcycle accidents involve another vehicle, and more often than not, the motorcyclist is not at fault.

Lynch said he's going the extra mile to help protect his soldiers, particularly when they're first back from a deployment. He requires all returning soldiers to wait 48 hours before driving a car and limits them to within 100 miles of Fort Stewart for a short period after that as they readjust.

"These soldiers have been through a lot and achieved a lot, but now they're home," he said. "And after deploying to combat for 15 months, I don't want to lose them in an accident at home."

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