WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- While summer days and Missouri roads are long and inviting – any venture into traffic can be dangerous.
Little over half-way through the year, more than 494 people have been killed on the state’s roadway, according to recent Missouri Department of Transportation data.
Citing the recent increase in summer roadside incidents, Brig. Gen. John J. Nichols, 509th Bomb Wing commander, asked Airmen and civilian members of Team Whiteman to focus on safety on-and-off the road during a safety all-call July 27.
“Everyone here has a role in the Whiteman AFB mission,” General Nichols said. “Whether you’re turning a wrench, you’re in the cockpit, controlling the aircraft from the tower or you are part of the various mission support activities. We need you here and your family needs you too.”
With motorcyclists facing particularly high risk, base leaders also announced a comprehensive review of the motorcycle safety procedures and the upcoming launch of a rider mentorship program facilitating a relationship with experienced motorcycle experts.
“If there are any gaps we’ll seal them up and do the right thing,” Nichols said of the program. “This program will succeed because we have NCOs and front-line supervisors, commanders and chiefs that are invested in you. But at the end of the day it comes down to you. You have to make a personal decision to do what is right, what is lawful and what is safe.”
The motorcycle safety program is a unit-directed and Airmen need to contact their unit’s designated motorcycle safety representative to learn about their unique requirements, said Staff Sgt. Dillon Neth, occupational safety technician, 509th Bomb Wing ground safety office.
“Motorcycle riding is an inherently dangerous activity,” Neth said. “That is something the Air Force recognizes and there are multiple steps Airmen need to complete and required safety gear they need to wear when riding on or off base.”
After completing basic and advanced rider courses Airmen are required to revisit safety briefs and training on a recurring basis to maintain and improve their safety skills. Safety experts also encourage passengers to attend formal riding training as well, so they understand the dangers and best practices. Regardless of military status, Neth continued, passengers and civilian riders alike are required to adhere to Air Force regulations and wear the same protective equipment as the military riders when riding on base.
“As a rider myself, what I’ve learned in the training has saved me from a potentially dangerous situations,” Neth said. “Continued training helps to avoid complacency. During each of these training sessions you can learn something new that could potentially safe your life down the road.”
New riding situations – like inclement weather, fog, low-light or heavy traffic can challenge new riders, Neth said, and require additional skill and experience.
“Riders need to know their limits,” Neth said. “If you’re riding in a group, ride to the level you’re comfortable with. People in your group should understand and include all riders safely.”
Mentorship, through riding clubs and motorcycle safety education days, can offer a valuable tool to increase rider education and experience. The Green Knights Military Motorcycle Club is one organizations that addresses the needs and concerns of military and DOD civilian riders, through education, safety knowledge, and the shared joy of riding.
“When we ride, we always keep an eye out for each other,” said David Sheets, member of Team Whiteman and president of the Green Knights MC Chapter 11. “Before riders join us, we make sure they are safe and have the right training-and if we notice something is off, or someone is unsafe, we’ll correct and help them out.
A retired Air Force technical sergeant with more than 100,000 miles on two wheels, Sheets knows that new riders often overestimate their own talent. Green Knights members organize motorcycle safety events and work closely with the Wing safety office in providing peer mentorship to service members and veterans.
“A lot of it comes down to the right mindset,” Sheets said. “Don’t ride angry and make sure your head’s in the right space. You can’t be daydreaming going down the road on a motorcycle. You just have to be so much more alert than in a car.”
While the Missouri DOT states more than 94 percent of traffic crashes are the result of human error, experts also encourage motorcyclists to pay special attention to their ride – especially when bikes have been garaged or stationary for long periods of time.
“Pre-season, we recommend completing your owner’s-manual-directed maintenance or bringing it to a dealership for proper check-up,” Neth said. “Then, prior to every ride, riders should complete a TCLOCS inspection, checking tires, controls, lights, oil and chassis and stand – Things can and will break, which can severely affect your safety. The key is to catch issues early.”
Caution for all drivers
While the dangers of the road are all-too-real, Nichols highlighted the wing’s long-standing “Airman Against Drunk Driving,” program, which has proven to save lives by allowing numerous Airmen to share rides home with designated drivers.
“If you decide to get behind the wheel and you had too much to drink, you are operating on borrowed time,” he said, highlighting a zero-tolerance policy for law and policy violations in the command. “Do not get behind the wheel if you had too much to drink. We have tools, we have options. You do not need to get behind the wheel.”
For more motorcycle safety resources, visit www.mmsp.org, https://www.safety.af.mil/ and the 509th BW Safety Office SharePoint page.
If you need a safe ride – consider calling on Airman Against Drunk Driving before getting on the road. AADD is a volunteer, non-profit organization that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure service members never need to resort to drunk driving. Rides are provided confidentially to Defense Department ID holders. Reach an AADD representative directly at (660) 563-1178 for no-questions-asked ride home and get home safely.