Dakota Thunder

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. James Russell
  • Ellsworth AFB, S.D.
In 2004 I bought my first Harley-Davidson Road King Classic and joined the base Dakota Thunder Motorcycle Club (DTMC). After the required commander's one-on-one brief and motorcycle training course, I completed my first large group ride in 2005 during Sturgis Week in South Dakota. While pondering what to write for this article, it occurred to me an article on a military motorcycle club with an outstanding safety record would be a great way to showcase the DTMC and the experience of riding in the beautiful Black Hills during the famous Sturgis Rally.

Motorcycle clubs provide mentorship, foster skill development and reinforce safe riding practices. Motorcycle mentorship clubs like DTMC provide a forum for safe riding for all active duty, retired military, military dependents, civilian and civilian dependents employed at Ellsworth. The DTMC's purpose and objectives are to support base motorcycle programs for the morale and welfare of all wing motorcyclists and ATV riders and passengers. There are several key functions we promote: establish a common ground from which the members can draw strength; interaction and socializing of its members and their families; motorcycle and ATV safety and regulation compliance; or- organize safe motorcycle and ATV events; and make available to the commanders the collective knowledge, experience and leadership abilities of the DTMC club. Unit commanders must follow AFI 91-207, ensuring riders are properly informed of club benefits and allowing individuals the ability to join them.

Since spring of 2001, Ellsworth Air Force Base has been at the forefront of motorcycle safety with the creation of the Dakota Thunder Motorcycle Club. The first group ride to Sturgis was in August of that year. DTMC sponsors one large group ride each year during the week of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. We host anywhere from 200 to a maximum of 500 motorcycles each year with many DVs and celebrities participating in the run. Setting up for this 1-day event takes a year of planning with the DTMC club, civilian motorcycle clubs, and local law enforcement agencies. It is escorted by two motorcycle police officers until the end of the run.

2008 marked the club's 8th anniversary hosting the Dakota Thunder Motorcycle Run from Ellsworth to Sturgis. There has never been a mishap, quite amazing considering the number of motorcycles and differing riding skill levels. The base is open to the general community with multiple B-1 bomber displays, a security forces display, armament displays, and fire department demonstrations. The flight line is open to motorcyclists for pictures in front of a B-1. This past year, the ride started with 300 motorcycles rumbling down the taxiways and runway for the first time in the base's history. In days gone by, heavy bombers like the B-17, B-29, and B-52 used the very same runway that the B-1 uses today. The historic significance was not lost on the many wing guests - this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will be cherished by all who participated.

The Sturgis run is a scenic 57-mile group ride in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. It offers a wide variety of terrain and views for all riders to the experience. Riders leave Ellsworth with a short stint on I-90 until they meander over to Nemo Road. This route exposes the riders to some of the prettiest scenery in the Black Hills as it ambles over to the famous rally town of Sturgis.

After arrival in Sturgis, participants are treated to a military veteran ceremony where a local veteran is honored and receives an encased American flag flown on a B-1 from the DTMC, a plaque from the South Dakota National Guard, and a proclamation from the City of Sturgis. The Sturgis mayor also reads a proclamation declaring the day as Military Appreciation Day. As a final tribute to the veteran, a B-1 performs a flyover.

The base has not suffered a loss of an Ellsworth motorcyclist or even a serious accident in the 8 years following the inception of the DTMC. I believe the positive efforts of motorcycle club members has had a direct correlation to that wonderful statistic, attributed to the strong mentorship, wing leadership support, and Wingman program and enhanced safety awareness DTMC supports.

My passion for motorcycles has evolved from learning to be a safe rider, to becoming the club president of a first-rate organization dedicated to keeping motorcycle riders safe. I continue to support safety programs and will soon take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Instructor Course so I can provide even more opportunities to keep motorcycle riders safe. As always, keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down.
(This article first appeared in Combat Edge, March/April 2009)