Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. --
One death is too many,” said Bob Piirainen, traffic safety program manager, Safety Office. “Our job is to ensure that we can keep every motorcyclist safe and alive to fight another fight.”
The Combat Center provides its Marines with the means to be proficient and defensive motorcycle operators. In accordance with the Commandant of the Marine Corps' guidance for reducing motorcycle incidents, injuries and deaths, the Combat Center Safety Office offers several Motorcycle Safety Foundation riding courses for a variety of skill levels. The motorcycle safety courses offered are the Basic Riders Course, Advanced Rider Course, Lee Parks Total Control and Track Day.
“A rider can come in here with any skill set, from first-time rider to advanced, and they will learn new things, be challenged and ultimately walk away a safer motorcycle operator,” Piirainen said.
The courses are open to all military. Service members require a few days off work to participate in Motorcycle Operator Training with the approval of a staff noncommissioned officer or higher from their command.
“The units are really supportive of their Marines getting this training,” Piirainen said. “They lose the Marine for a few days, but ultimately they know the course prevents them from losing that Marine for good.”
For any active duty personnel to operate a motorcycle on or off base, it is mandatory to complete the Basic Rider's Course. BRC is a three-day long course, available regularly and takes the place of the riding portion of the Department of Motor Vehicles test when obtaining a motorcycle license or instruction permit. To use a personally owned motorcycle in BRC, the bike must have current insurance and registration. The Safety Office does offer loaner bikes to those who don’t have their own.
“BRC is designed for someone who has never driven a motorcycle before,” said Piirainen. “It begins with teaching the basics but more importantly the mental capacity needed to ride.”
The first day of BRC is conducted in a classroom where students learn the introduction to motorcycling, preparation for riding and street strategies. The following two days take place out on the motorcycle safety range where they put the principals they learned to practice.
“Our goal is to build a good foundation with constant repetition of the basics,” said Piirainen. "People tend to generate bad habits early on, so our goal is to build good habits from the start with a brand new rider or break the bad habits of someone who is already comfortable with the bike.”
Upon completion of the course, the rider will receive a Motorcycle Safety Foundation BRC card and have the opportunity to sign up for the Advanced Riders Course. Military members or those who have a motorcycle license and currently own a motorcycle are required to take the ARC 120 days after BRC. In between courses, the riders are encouraged to ride their bikes often and to have consistent saddle time. Riders should become comfortable with their bike by themselves and should wait until after the ARC before allowing others to passenger their bike.
“The advanced course will help the rider to become more confident with the bike and to realize what their bike is capable of,” said Piirainen. “The course is progressive and takes two days to complete, given the rider is confident and capable.”
Lee Parks Total Control, a course that covers riding and maneuvering at higher speeds and the defensive mindset that it requires, is offered once yearly and is available here on base. Track Day is another course offered at a track off base and allows the rider to operate the bike at very high speed in a controlled environment. Full one piece leathers are available for this course, free of charge, along with boots, gloves and spine protectors.
“We give them the tools and knowledge they need to stay safe,” said Piirainen. “Most things we teach them will save their lives one day. The right mindset and the right gear will go a long way.”
On and off base, it is required for military members to wear personal protective equipment when operating a motorcycle. Proper motorcycle equipment consists of a Department of Transportation approved helmet with a shatterproof face shield or goggles. The helmet must fit properly and be secured under the chin with the D-ring.
“If the helmet is on but not secured properly, it’s useless,” said Piirainen. “What good is a helmet if it flies off during a crash?”
Riders must also wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, full fingered gloves and hard-toed boots that cover the ankle. Violations of the PPE requirements or any other traffic law can result in driving privileges being revoked and required attendance in the Remedial Driving Course.
“Over the past year, the number of enrollments in the remedial course has increased a lot,” said Guy Rosbough, deputy director, Safety Office.
In fiscal year 2012, 557 people aboard the Combat Center completed BRC, 121 completed ARC, 90 completed the remedial course and 5,696 completed the Driver Improvement Course, which is a higher attendance rate than any other base in the Corps.
The Safety Office also offers briefs, when requested, for individual units to include post deployment motorcycle safety refreshers. The coaches have trained or briefed more than 12,500 personnel in 2012.
“I’ll put my coaches up against any others in the Safety Division and the Corps,” said Piirainen. “We only accept the best, and we have the awards hanging on the wall to prove it.”
In 2010-2011, The California Motorcyclist Safety Program, ran by California Highway Patrol, awarded Combat Center Base Safety for 100% compliance for efficient execution of standard operational procedures, for exceeding classroom standards and for exceeding standards of rider’s coaches.
“For four years in a row, our Defensive Drivers Course has been awarded the Best Performance Award from the National Safety Council,” said Rosbough. “We are also home of the only person in the Corps that is certified to train Alive at 25 instructors.”
The Marine Corps offers many options when it comes to education in motorcycle safety, but the Corps isn’t out on the road riding next to its Marines and keeping them safe. The responsibility ultimately falls on the shoulders of the motorcyclist. “We love this job,” said Piirainen.
“We try to make a difference and because of that, we get really invested in the Marines lives. When one of us goes down, it really hits home.”