EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- More than 500 motorcyclists on bikes of all varieties, sizes and shapes converged on the McKinley Climatic Lab April 14 to attend the 10th annual Motorcycle Safety Rally here.
Counting non-riders, more than 600 attendees participated. The rally, which began in 2004 with 50 riders, brought together motorcycle enthusiasts from local and regional bases in Northwest Florida.
In addition to the 96th Test Wing and 53rd Wing, who regularly host the rally, military and civilian members of the 33rd Fighter Wing, Hurlburt Field and Tyndall Air Force Bases and Duke Field were part of the joint event.
“This is hands down one of the most robust motorcycle safety training events in the Air Force Materiel Command or any major command,” said Col. Shane Haughian, 96th TW chief of safety. “This year, every single tenant and partner is jumping in with us. There is also a tenfold increase in the number of commanders, first sergeants and superintendents here this year. They are all taking an active interest in motorcycle safety.”
Joe Bailey, 53rd Wing occupational safety manager, was impressed with the rally’s growth since its inception.
“The 53rd Wing started the rally back in 2004 with 50 riders and it progressively got bigger,” he said. “In 2007 we joined with the 96th Test Wing. It’s averaged about 500 attendees since then. This year is the biggest ever.”
Haughian began the briefing by addressing the need for higher-level motorcycle training here.
“Fifty percent of all Airmen fatalities are from motorcycle accidents and 30 percent of them are age 25 and under,” he said.
He said a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study cited Interstate 10 and Highways 98 and 29 as three of the most dangerous roads in America, which are travelled by many of the event’s participants. Other hazardous concerns include reckless tourists and weather.
Safety is a commander’s program, regularly addressed by leadership as one of the top three risks, Haughian said.
“We need to educate our youngest riders and get them experienced,” he said. “We have a lot of unit and squadron commanders coming here, some of them non-riders, who also need to know about this because they give the high-risk briefs.”
Chris Mitchell, Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor and vice-president of the Eglin Green Knights, a local military bikers’ organization, gave the preseason safety brief and group ride instructions. He also covered upkeep and maintenance; riding in adverse weather and the importance of having the proper motorcycle credentials.
Sgt. Eddie Elmore from the Florida Highway Patrol was the guest speaker. He talked about traffic safety and fielded questions on local and state laws.
After the briefings, the riders departed for lunch in unit or individual group rides.
Bailey hoped the attendees left the rally thinking about individual accountability when riding and proper representation of the military at group functions.
“It’s an event to make our riders safe here on the Emerald Coast," Bailey said.