An increase in motorcycle-related deaths this fiscal year caused senior Corps leaders to re-emphasize road safety recently.
"Losing one Marine is too many, because they are the most precious thing we have in the Marine Corps,” said Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Carlton W. Kent. "It's a shame when you have a Marine who does three tours in combat, comes back safe and gets killed on a motorcycle."
Motorcycle-related Marine deaths reached 23 on July 29, surpassing last year’s record 19 fatalities, a troubling number for leaders in these remaining 2008 fiscal year months, according to Joseph Pinkowski, vehicle program manager, Headquarters Marine Corps.
"Any loss of life is unacceptable," Pinkowski said. "The Marine Corps is being careful to institute the right changes. We want to create a positive culture change regarding Marine Corps motorcycle riding."
Earlier this year, to prevent this safety problem, Corps officials issued new policies and procedures in All Marine Message 014/08, which included making safety classes and specific personal safety equipment mandatory for all riders.
AlMar 014/08 states that Marines must inform their commands before buying a motorcycle, and they must duly register all motorcycles at the command and state offices.
"All of the sections out there need to get in on this," said 1st Sgt. Johnny Perry, first sergeant for Headquarters Battalion, Headquarters Marine Corps. "We're still collecting data, so (staff noncommissioned officers) need to sit down with their Marines and explain why this is important."
Marines who currently own a motorcycle, or any two-wheeled motor vehicle, must notify their officer-in-charge and register the vehicle at the provost marshals office, Pinkowski said. Failure to do so is punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Sgt. Matthew Hammond, a Suzuki sport bike owner from Tucson, Ariz., who has been riding for three years, said the new policy was definitely a smart change.
"It's like registering your car in the state you live in,” said Hammond, driver for the sergeant major of the Marine Corps. “It's part of your responsibilities as a Marine.”
AlMar 014/08 also states commanders must verify with the provost marshals office that each Marine reporting a motorcycle has a valid driver's license with a motorcycle endorsement and that each Marine has completed or is scheduled to attend the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's basic rider course.
"Of all the motorcycles on the road right now with fatal mishaps that are occurring, the vast majority of them are sport bike," Pinkowski said. "So our focus is to educate the Marines who own that class of motorcycle. We want them trained. We want them educated, and we want to know who they are."
Pinkowski also said he hopes the new policies will pave the way for advanced training for those who have never ridden before or are thinking of purchasing a motorcycle.
"Safety programs do not replace leadership but provide additional tools to our commanders," wrote Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, in AlMar 014/08. "These actions provide our motorcycle riders the education and training they need to avoid or survive a motorcycle mishap."
To locate a motorcycle training facility or view available courses, visit www.msf-usa.org/.