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Home : Safety Promotions : News
NEWS | Aug. 29, 2023

DoD Tests Joint Motorcycle Mentorship Program

By Amy Robinson, Naval Safety Command Safety Promotions-Public Affairs

Riders from the Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force recently traveled to Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, to work together toward one common, critical goal: making their motorcycle riders safer.

Hosted by the Commandant of the Marine Corps Safety Division (CMC SD) on Quantico, nearly 30 active-duty and civilian motorcycle riders participated in the Department of Defense (DoD) Motorcycle Mentorship Program beta test Aug. 14-18, which was facilitated by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF).

Unlike other riding courses, which focus primarily on learning and mastering the technical skills required to operate a motorcycle, the mentorship program is focused more on decision-making and relationship-building rather than skill-building, said Dale Wisnieski, traffic safety manager for the Commandant of the Marine Corps Safety Division and beta test event facilitator.

“Within the military services, we all have issues with certain behaviors and poor decision-making when it comes to riding our motorcycles,” Wisnieski said.

As of Aug. 23 this fiscal year, the Navy and Marine Corps have lost a total of 25 service members, with the Navy losing 19 Sailors – the highest number of motorcycle fatalities for the service in six years, according to Naval Safety Command data. Many of these fatalities were caused by poor decision-making such as excessive speed and improper maneuvers.

“While other training courses focus on skills, the mentorship program covers all aspects of riding and provides valuable information to riders to help them make the best decisions possible while out on a ride,” Wisnieski added.

The beta test mentorship program also differs from other courses in the way information is presented – and who presents the information. Instead of instructors providing lessons and administering and grading tests on skill-based knowledge, this program encourages trained, volunteer mentors to meet with one to three junior riders on a recurring basis in a more relaxed environment. Here, the mentor can evaluate the junior riders’ skill and knowledge levels while addressing different aspects of riding during each session.

Although mentorship programs have been around – and been required in one form or another by all services for roughly a decade, the lack of standardized, consistent training material or guidelines for motorcycle mentors within DoD is an ongoing challenge.

“The Marine Corps has had the requirement to meet on a quarterly basis, and riders have conducted group rides, but they’re not coordinated to evaluate the skills of newer riders,” Wisnieski said. “And that's what this training may provide – it can give mentors the direction and skills they need to evaluate new riders and determine how they can help correct and guide them. It's not meant to be a skills test; it really is meant to be mentoring.”

The mentoring material provided during the beta test offered suggested topics, quizzes and motorcycle exercises mentors could use to gauge the knowledge and skill levels of their junior riders – and that’s exactly what the test volunteers did.

The first group, 16 trainer rider-mentors, began in the classroom Aug. 14 to learn not only how to prepare to teach other riders how to become rider-mentors, but also to become familiar with more than 50 topics that will be available to the new mentors to use in discussions with their junior rider mentees.

“The information is there – MSF developed 52 topics that will provide riders the education they need in all aspects of riding,” Wisnieski said, “And the goal is to decrease poor decisions through better education and guidance.”

Monday afternoon, the trainers-in-training headed to the motorcycle range to run the exercises they would be conducting with the incoming rider-mentors later in the week. For the next two days, the volunteers honed their skills as trainers, alternating between the classroom and the motorcycle range at Camp Upshur while working together to determine the best way to present the information to new rider-mentors.

Aviation Structural Mechanic 1st Class Matthew Sharp, an instructor at the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Unit Oceana, Virginia, and one of the trainer rider-mentors, said although he thinks the mentorship program will help, Sailors, specifically junior riders, also have to be receptive to the program.

“We can do everything in our power to help them hone their skills and make smarter choices, but really, when they leave, it’s going to be up to them to use that information,” Sharp said. “I think that’s the biggest issue we’re having – losing service members over poor judgement.”

The 10 rider-mentors began class Aug. 17, which was now being taught solely by the trainer rider-mentors, with the MSF staff observing and suggesting course corrections as needed. Later that afternoon, the trainers headed back to the range, only this time running exercises with their rider-mentors in training.

U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. David Cook, an intelligence analyst at Marine Forces Command, Virginia and one of the rider-mentors in training, said although he was looking at the mentoring program through a more critical lens, it was because he wants the program to be as good as it possibly can – especially for young Marines.

“For being a beta test, I think it’s going well, but there is room to grow,” Cook said. “I hope they take all the things we critique and make it better, but I’m excited to see where that goes.”
Cook added that he’s happy the DoD is looking to enhance motorcycle programs, which sends a clear message to all services and their motorcycle riders.
“There are individuals at the top that continue to want to make these programs better because that hammers it home for a lot of young [riders] that you're not just a number; you're a person with a family, and your service – Marines, Navy, Air Force, Army – they want you to get home safe, and they're giving you the tools to do so.”

The last day of training for both groups included a morning on the range, and just before one final trip to the classroom, Matt Gentile, one of the two MSF staff members leading the beta test, gave some feedback on how he thought the test was going and how the program could improve.

“I think it’s going fantastic,” he said. “We’re finding areas we can improve the content and its delivery. Based on what we have seen here, we will add more information to our mentor trainer guide so the trainers can facilitate an even better process to the rider-mentors.”
Feedback from test participants and service-specific safety representatives who observed the test program will determine updates to the program and whether another beta test is needed before completion.
Once the program is completed and released, Wisnieski said the Joint Safety Council and Defense Safety Oversight Council will assess the way ahead for the DoD motorcycle mentorship program.
“Leadership support is critical in moving forward,” Wisnieski said. “As a collective service, our goal is to roll this out as a joint initiative, and leadership support is critical in implementing a program that can reduce the number of motorcycle mishaps and potentially save the lives of our service members and civilians.”
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