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Motorcycle Deaths of Soldiers Returning From Iraq Spurs Biker Training Effort By Army

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Mari-Ela David (bio | email) of KHNL News reports on some of the most encouraging news regarding motorcycle riding in Hawaii this year in her story from Wahiawa today.

I have written many articles on this Blog in 2009 about the increasing rate of motorcycle death and injury in Honolulu, on Oahu and on Maui and the Big island.

Kapolei Man Dead In Yet Another Oahu Motorcycle Crash At Intersection – What is Going On With Motorcycles in Hawaii?

Motorcyclist Dies In Crash In Kaaawa

Hawaii Motorcycle Chronicles: Another Death On Friday

One concern has been lack of training. Anyone can buy and drive a huge motorcycle off the lot, but can they handle it in emergencies and do they understand the machine they own? The military is focusing on the right area by implementing advanced training because even though the soldiers have the physical and mental toughness to cope with war in Iraq, the motorcycle also requires training, just like they get training for the use of their weapons and the equipment they use as soldiers.

Few things are sadder than the death of a soldier returning safely from war. I have handled those cases and they are devastating to everyone including my entire office staff. So I am glad to see some efforts made to protect these most important people: the soldiers who defend us.

The Army says military motorcycle crashes are different from civilian ones, saying civilian accidents tend to involve other vehicles.

But when a soldier rides a motorcycle, numbers from the last two years show 80% of the time it’s a solo-motorcycle accident.

This week’s classes are designed to throw a disturbing trend off-course, one that has the U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii concerned its soldiers may die in motorcycle accidents after returning from war.

"That’s been our experience since 2005. We have actually lost 16 soldiers that had recently come back from deployment, bought motorcycles and had died within months of coming back home," said Bill Maxwell, Safety Manager at Schofield Barracks.

The military isn’t quite sure why, but says it’s not a suicide attempt. It’s more of a need for speed.

In March of 2007, video of a motorcycle made news, going more than 100 miles per hour on the H-3. The rider posted it on YouTube, indicating he was a Marine who spent time in Iraq.

"You come back from a combat situation, you’re used to living on that edge. Motorcycles are some of the fastest way to get that adrenaline rush everyday," said Maxwell.

The military training course as we might expect is tough. Tougher than normal civilian training courses:

"It was for 3 days but it wasn’t as near as many turns. It was a much smaller course," said 1st Lt. William Hollifield, about his beginning training course.

Experts from the California Superbike School in L.A. train soldiers through more than 500 curves in a four hour session alone.

On a basic course, students can only go up to 15 miles per hour but at Wheeler, they can go up to 50 miles per hour.

The idea is to simulate a real-life ride on roads and highways.

"You can’t test yourself, your tires, or your motorcycle in a controlled environment like this on the street," said Lt. Col. Rob Howe.

And testing limits at Wheeler’s motorcycle course could prove critical if faced with life-or-death on Hawaii’s roads.

The motorcycle groups in Hawaii are also encouraging safety and offering their members training. I have been told that one of the great teachers of motorcycle training is Jerry "Motorman" Palladino.


Perhaps Hawaii should get him over for some training classes. A death or serious injury that is preventable is one of life’s saddest moments.