Photo by Heather Middleton
By Joel Hall
In 2008, according to the Georgia State Patrol, the U.S. Army lost more soldiers in motorcycle fatalities than in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
At Fort Gillem, safety awareness groups and local public safety officials took a stand for safety on Thursday, by hosting the Atlanta Military Motorcycle Safety Rally.
The rally lasted all day in the parking lot of the Fort Gillem Post Exchange, bringing together state patrolmen, Army officials, stunt-bike riders, and police officers from multiple jurisdictions. During the event, motorcycle enthusiasts watched controlled stunt demonstrations and safe-riding displays, tested their driving skills on a traffic simulator, and received safe-driving tips from the Georgia Department of Driver Services and other organizations.
U.S. Army Garrison, Fort McPherson/Fort Gillem Media Relations Officer Peter Chadwick said Thursday was the second time Fort Gillem has hosted the event. He said the purpose is to improve motorcycle safety and awareness among the local military and civilian communities.
"We have a lot of people in the military, who ride motorcycles," Chadwick said. "It's the military's responsibility to make sure that their officers stay safe, not only when they are in combat or training, but also on their off-time. We try to give them as much information as possible, so they can be safe on their bikes and enjoy them."
Throughout the rally, members of the Atlanta Freestyle Stunt Team performed difficult maneuvers, such as "endos" (front-end wheelies) and regular wheelies while standing on the seat or sitting on the handle bars. The stuntmen, however, stressed that stunts should never to performed on the road, or on bikes that haven't been modified to withstand crashes.
"We do this to basically show people, 'Don't do this on the street,'" said Atlanta Freestyle Stunt Team Founder Derick Stafford. "These bikes are not just off the show room floor. These are highly modified. A lot of people do [stunts on the road] ... it's a quick way to get hurt and break your bike. We're showing people that if you are going to do a wheelie, do it in a controlled environment."
Sgt. Ron Patten, of the Henry County Police Department's Motor Unit, came to Thursday's rally with his unit to display the proper execution of sharp, 90-degree turns, off-set cone weaves, and figure eights. He said many novice riders crash because they lean too far into turns, rather than looking ahead. He said events like the rally allow officers to share their motorcycle knowledge with the public.
"By doing community events like this, we can give out some tips, because, as officers, we have to go through additional training," Patten said. "Anytime a motorcycle rider goes down, it impacts the entire motorcycle community. It can make everybody's insurance go up in the long run, plus, it's going to affect somebody's family."
Maj. Mark McDonough, commanding officer of field operations of the Georgia State Patrol, said that between 2008 and 2009, motorcycle deaths in Georgia went down by 19 percent. However, in the first three months of 2010, the state has already seen 16 motorcycle fatalities -- six more deaths than in the first three months of 2009.
"That being said, we [the state] are facing a 60-percent increase [in motorcycle fatalities]," McDonough said. "We [the nation] lost more soldiers on bikes than on the battlefield [in 2008]. That is unacceptable. That is risky behavior that has to be reduced. Anytime you get an opportunity to promote any message ... bringing people face to face makes a difference. It's better than any ad campaign, or anything the media can do."
Today (Friday), the rally will continue with a 130-mile ride from Fort Gillem in Forest Park, to the Andersonville National Historic Site. Also known as Fort Sumter, the site was the largest Confederate military prison in the American Civil War.
Registration for the ride, which will leave from the Fort Gillem Post Exchange at around 10 a.m., is free and open to the public. For more information on the ride, call Peter Chadwick, at (404) 783-3004.