SJAFB keeps riders safe and throttles open

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kenneth Boyton
  • 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

A sturdy grip held the throttle open as the motorcycle cruised the highway. Wind rapped against the riders face cooling him off from the hot summer sun hanging high in the sky. In a vehicle ahead of the bike, a driver quickly glanced in their side-view mirror and without using their blinker pulled into the next lane. A few minutes later, sirens could be heard in the distance.

According to the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles, a total of 3,746 motorcycle crashes led to 172 deaths and 2,986 injuries in 2015.

Tech. Sgt. Derek Mitchell, 336th Aircraft Maintenance Unit lead engine technician, took it upon himself to help lower those numbers.

Mitchell is leading 12 Airmen in a motorcycle instructor course, which started May 1. In addition to seven Airmen from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, he also extended the class to Airmen from other installations, including two from Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, two from Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, and one from Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi.

“A single death from a motorcycle crash is one too many,” said Mitchell. “That’s why I brought the motorcycle program here and am teaching the course myself.”

The instructor course lasts for eight days and the students are heavily tested on a multitude of things. The students must show proficiency at teaching others in a classroom environment and on the driving range. At the end of the course, each student must pass written and driving tests and are evaluated while they teach a class.

“These guys are tested rigorously to ensure the people they teach in the future receive the best and most accurate training,” said Mitchell. “This training can save their lives, their loved ones and the lives of others from a terrible accident.”

Once the students complete the course, they will be certified to teach the Basic Riders Course 2, which is a course for riders who want to become more comfortable and confident on their own motorcycle. The course focuses on improving street riding techniques, cornering and crash-avoidance maneuvers.

Mitchell added the class is also ideal as a refresher course and is a great opportunity to become better acquainted with a newly purchased motorcycle.

Staff Sgt. Jason Bowles, 552nd Maintenance Squadron electronic warfare computer technician, is one of the Airmen taking the course.

“I love motorcycles and want to share my love of riding safely with others,” said Bowles. “One of the first things to remember is to always have your gear. The right protection will save your life.”

Personal protective equipment consists of eye protection, long-sleeve outerwear, full-finger gloves, pants, sturdy over-the-ankle footwear and a Department of Transportation approved helmet.

In order to take the course, PPE is required along with a valid motorcycle license, insurance and previous Motorcycle Safety Foundation training.

“Besides their equipment, the two most important things a rider can do to stay safe is to take classes to improve their skills and get a lot of seat time,” Mitchell said. “Riding around on the bike, going places and applying what you learn makes it become muscle memory. The more seat time you have, the safer you’ll be.”

Mitchell added that unfortunately training can only do so much.     

“As riders, we need to keep our heads on a swivel. We try to stay constantly aware of our surroundings but sometimes it’s not enough,” Mitchell said. “We plead with other drivers on the road to stay alert. Keep a look out for motorcycles, double-check your environment, and pay attention. We all have loved ones we want to go home to.”