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UTV course now required at Combat Center

23 Nov 2012 | LCpl. Ali Azimi

A new class has been added to the list of motor vehicle safety classes for the Marine Corps. The newest edition is the Utility Terrain Vehicle Course that teaches Marines capabilities and proper handling of off-highway vehicles.

UTVs, also referred to as recreational off-highway vehicles, are four wheeled versatile machines able to traverse rough terrain, tight spots and narrow roads other vehicles have difficulty or can’t fit through.

Unlike other off-road vehicles, such as dirt bikes or all-terrain vehicles, the UTVs feature extra seats to safely accommodate passengers and a cargo bed to help transport gear and supplies. The roll-over protection structure guards users in case of an accident, and its light weight and engine size save gas as an alternate to SUVs and trucks. 

“The UTV world is really big and there are a big variety of styles,” said Bob Piirainen, traffic safety manager and UTV instructor, Combat Center Safety Office.  “We use them for all kinds of stuff. The range guys use them to go out to the ranges, which is a lot easier with four wheel drive and being able to fit into tight areas.”

All these benefits of UTVs have made the vehicle a commonly used asset in the Marine Corps. However, a trend of small accidents with the vehicles prompted a counter measure to assure the safety of Marines.

“We’ve had quite a few accidents with them,” Piirainen said.  “People started getting hurt with them. The Marine Corps went out and had some folks put together a curriculum.”

Since the establishment of the Driver Improvement Course and the Basic Riders Course for motorcyclists, there has been a large decrease in the number of accidents on the road and the UTV course looks to do the same.

The Combat Center is scheduled to have its first course in the December time frame. The course only takes half a day and is taught at the Combat Center’s dirt bike and ATV range. The lessons teach everything from basic maneuvers to going around obstacles. Marines must provide their own off-road vehicle and take an online survey at http://www.rohva.org/ prior to the course.

“Anybody who operates the UTVs in an off-road environment is required to take the course,” Piirainen said. “Any MOS can potentially need it.”           

There are only a handful of instructors in the Marine Corps. Piiranien was one of the first six people to be certified as a UTV instructor in the Marine Corps and is the Combat Center’s only UTV instructor.

The first instructor’s course for the UTVs was held at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, Calif. in June. The five-day course taught instructors everything about the versatile vehicles and how to pass on those lessons to students of the course.

“Fortunately, we were up in Bridgeport so we got a lot of extra training with them, meaning a lot of rock climbing and traversing over some different types of obstacles. It’s not only soft sand you see here but also trees, rocks and things only Bridgeport has,” Piirainen said.

Piirainen looks to pass on the lessons he’s learned to the Marines of the Combat Center.

In order to take the course, Marines must have their driver’s license and a Drivers Improvement Card. For more information on the course or to sign up, call Piirainen at 830-6154.

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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms