No Marine goes to a combat zone without first going through the proper safety and training procedures. Yet, from 2006 to 2007 the fatality rate of Marine Motorcyclists was high enough for the commandant of the Marine Corps to implement a mandatory mentor program at the battalion level, Marine Corps wide.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 John C. Watson, postal director, Headquarters & Support Battalion, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, has been the president and head mentor for the H&S Bn. motorcycle mentor program for a year and a half, and leads each of the monthly, mandatory meetings.
“[The mandatory meetings] fosters the commander's intent, where inexperienced riders get to learn from the advanced riders and partake in the safety lessons,” Watson said.
At every meeting a different safety topic is discussed with both advanced riders and beginners, whether it’s a general skill or an incident that happened in town recently. This gives the inexperienced riders a chance to hear how others have dealt with these specific situations.
“What inexperienced riders learn from those who mentor is not only the experience that we have, but also the knowledge that what they’re going through at this particular level in their skills, we were all there at one point in time,” Watson said. “We were the ones nervous when going around blind or hairpin turns.”
By applying lessons learned in the Basic Riders Course, provided here on base, as well as lessons learned though years of experience and through additional training courses, the more experienced riders are able to give the novice riders lessons learned through personal experience.
“[Being a mentor] is really key as opposed to telling our Marines to read a book or watch this video,” Watson said. “You’re actually hearing from not only a leader in your service, but you’re also hearing from someone who does what you love to do, in most cases, on a daily basis.”
The mentors also learn from the amateur riders in the same way that a teacher always learns from her students.
“Its the joy of seeing the eyes of inexperienced riders light up when they’ve learned a new skill or they learned a new way to be a safe motorcyclists,” said Watson, who is also a Motorcycle Safety Foundation rider coach. “Introducing new ideas and concepts is really a joy to me and to see that they realize they can be much safer riders or much more skilled riders. That’s really the joy and the benefit of being a mentor.”
The optional group rides, held four to five times a year, is a way give everyone the opportunity to improve upon their skills.
“Learning how to ride in a group environment may be challenging for some marines,” Watson said.
Not knowing the proper procedures of group riding leads to accidents, because inexperienced riders feel the need to push themselves to keep up with the advanced riders.
“Since I took over, the program has been set up so that the group rides were split up into two different bike styles; sport bikes and cruisers. Over this past year and a half we have had several incidents, none fatal thank goodness,” Watson said. “The riders were being pressured because of the two groups to try to keep up with a particular rider or riders in that group.”
Watkins recently implemented a new grouping scheme in order to lower the number of accidents.
“Rather than break [the riders] down into two groups based on style of bike, I broke them up into ability groups,” Watson said. “We have advanced, intermediate and novice groups.”
Coming up with a plan to get everyone categorized isn’t the biggest issue. The majority of concern lies in getting people interested. Part of the problem is that the word doesn’t get out. If we can get the leaders to push the message that these meetings would be fun for the Marines, I think we’d have a better showing, Watson said.
Motorists who become members of this club will be afforded many opportunities and can develop relationships with people who share a similar interest.
Motorists who pass the Basic Riders Course are more than welcome to attend all of the events held by the motorcycle mentor program.