MCAS New River holds ‘motorcycle rodeo’
April 24,2006

JACKSONVILLE — Cpl. Jon Wiley bought his “crotch rocket” in November after returning from deployment with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. He bought it, he says, “not to get crazy but to save gas.

“The wife said it’s a gas saver, so she let me,” he said. “And I had permission from the commanding officer, too.”

Obviously, Wiley isn’t the only Marine who found the prospects of owning a bike intriguing — about 300 Marines brought their bikes to New River Air Station on Friday to participate in the inaugural “motorcycle rodeo.”

The all-day event gave Marines from the air station and Lejeune a chance to bring their bikes aboard the base and ride them on a variety of courses designed to get their adrenaline pumping just as it gave them valuable practice and experience astride their two-wheeled metal steed.

Col. Stephen Forand, the air station’s commander, said it’s an opportunity to “get off on the right foot” on motorcycle safety as the weather warms up — especially with so many Marines recently returned from deployment.

“It’s the beginning of the riding year, and we’ve had a large portion of II MEF return,” he said. “We have a lot of young Marines eager to come back and buy motorcycles, some buying their first bike. We want to go back to those basics. For those who maybe haven’t ridden their bikes in seven or eight months, this is an opportunity to refresh those skills.”

The Marines have been stressing motorcycle safety as of late because of the number of crashes involving leathernecks. More than 50 Marines have died in motorcycle crashes Corps-wide since October 2000. Three Lejeune Marines died in wrecks last October, while two others were seriously injured.

Marines are not necessarily more dangerous on bikes than their civilian counterparts, said Bob Livingston, the air station’s ground safety office.

“Our numbers are pretty much the same (as the civilian population),” Livingston said. “The difference is Joe Average, when he’s killed, he isn’t an integral part of our national defense.”

Cpl. Damilo Cortes, with the 26th MEU, bought his bike four months ago because it was “a toy he always wanted to have.” But he still has little riding experience. Between the mandatory riding course — offered through Coastal Carolina Community College — and the rodeo, Cortes said he has learned a lot.

“For me, I didn’t have much riding experience, so the course taught me a lot,” he said. “Without it, you get on your bike and totally be lost.”

While many Marines like Wiley and Cortes realized the rodeo was an event primarily concerned with safety, he said it was still fun to get out of the office for a day and ride his bike.

And that’s exactly the point, said Livingston. It’s a chance to give them a controlled environment to ride in instead of on the hectic Jacksonville streets. At the rodeo, a minor crash can even be a learning experience, he said.

“Here we’ve had people tip their bikes a bit, but then run the course again and get through it safely,” Livingston said.

Forand, who owns a motorcycle himself, said it’s important to be creative when getting a safety message across to today’s young Marines.

“You can only lecture somebody so much,” he said. “These young Marines, you can’t just tell them not to do it. You have to lay it out in front of them. You have to go out and give them traning and, hopefully, they will make the right decisions when it comes to it.”