By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Fort Hood Herald
Safety and fun: two big issues Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch pushes at Fort Hood.
The general made motorcycle safety a
priority when he took over III Corps and Fort Hood four months ago, and on Friday, united the post for the Phantom Thunder Motorcycle Run.
More than 1,100 riders dotted the highways on a 60-mile route that stretched from Fort Hood to the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery to Stillhouse Hollow Lake and back to Fort Hood. The ride also included 275 special guest riders from the Patriot Guard and the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association.
"Phantom Thunder is not only about safe riding practices and encouraging others to do the same but also about having fun," Lynch said in a letter to the Fort Hood and Central Texas community.
The ride promoted safety and fun, but participants also took time at the cemetery to honor veterans before the holiday weekend.
It was in August that Lynch updated the motorcycle policy at Fort Hood. More Fort Hood soldiers died in motorcycle accidents in the last six weeks than Lynch's command lost in its last six months of combat in Iraq, he said then.
"I'm going to be Draconian with safety," Lynch said.
In the 11 months before August, Fort Hood had 60 motorcycle accidents with seven resulting in deaths, according to information provided by Nancy Bourget, the post's media relations officer.
Lynch's new policy stated that all motorcyclists carry and present a Motorcycle Safety Foundation card, valid registration and proof of insurance to be granted access to post. A MSF card is granted to those who complete the foundation's riding course, which is taught on post and in several locations in the area.
Carrying the card ensured that all motorcycle riders have the proper training and licensing on the vehicle they are riding prior to riding at Fort Hood, according to information from Bourget. Fort Hood was one of the few installations that didn't require riders to present the MSF card, Lynch said in a September Herald report. Civilian riders were also required to show proof they completed a MSF course.
The safety card was just one of several updates in the policy, and drew criticism from local riders – both soldiers and civilians. But, Lynch held his ground and the policy stayed.
"Yeah, I'm the guy who changed the rules," Lynch said to more than 1,100 riders at Hood Stadium before the ride's start last week.
"I did all that because I love ya," he added.
It is unacceptable that soldiers survive battle, Lynch said, only to come home and die on the highways and byways.
"I refuse to allow that to happen," he said.
Before the riders left Fort Hood, there was a mass inspection of the motorcycles, riders and their equipment. The riders took off from post in three groups, and law enforcement officials from Fort Hood's 89th Military Police Brigade, Killeen, Belton and Harker Heights assisted in the community.
The ride also provided awareness for other drivers in the community. It was important because many drivers on the road too often don't watch out for motorcycles, said Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Brown of the 120th Infantry Brigade.
What a heinous job, Command Sgt. Maj. Neil Ciotola said before the ride started Friday.
"We're getting paid to do this," Fort Hood's senior noncommissioned officer joked.
Soldiers who participated got the day off to ride.
"It's pretty cool standing here on a duty day, fixin' to take a motorcycle ride," Lynch said.
The general owns a Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic and his wife, Sarah, often rides on it with him.
The ride was open to all types of motorcycles and sport bikes mingled with Harleys and Hondas.
Riding motorcycles creates a camaraderie that is similar to what soldiers experience in the Army, said Sgt. 1st Class Walter Fowler, of the 4th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery. No matter what bike one rides or what color one's skin, riders fight in and are part of a team, he said.
Participating in an event like this will open a lot of soldiers' eyes because they didn't know officials like Lynch and Ciotola rode motorcycles, Fowler added. It shows soldiers that these men not only set the rules, but they follow them, leading from the top in every aspect.
Many of the riders were noncommissioned officers and it's important they set the example, Fowler said.
"If we don't lead the way – from the top – then they won't do it," he said of the soldiers.
Sgt. 1st Class Erika Lozano of the 36th Engineer Brigade agreed that it was important for noncommissioned officers like her to set an example.
"If I do it, my soldiers are going to do it," she said, while sitting atop her 1983 Harley-Davidson Sportster at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery.
Lozano was surprised that there were so many motorcycle riders at Fort Hood. She took up riding a year ago because she liked the freedom and peace and quiet being on a bike gave her. The post-wide ride was a good experience because soldiers could see another side of their peers and leaders. They could see each other somewhere besides behind a desk or at a motorpool, Lozano said.
Many of the soldiers who participated not only wanted to have fun and promote safety, but contribute to a good cause. They rode alongside 275 members of the Patriot Guard and Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association. A majority of those riders are veterans.
Country singer Michael Scott also participated in the ride, and performed later that night at a celebration at Hood Stadium.
Scott and Lynch met when the general commanded Fort Stewart, Ga. Scott came to Iraq and played throughout the country for soldiers stationed there. Lynch asked the singer and his band to headline Fort Hood's event.
The celebration included carnival rides, games and a concert for families. The event was hosted my Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation and the sponsors included the Texas Veterans of Foreign Wars, Fort Hood National Bank, Independence Places, Fort Hood Harley-Davidson, Isdale Chiropractic, Texas Proud Custom Cycles, Pioneer Services and USAA.
A feature of Friday's ride was a stop at the Central Texas Veterans Cemetery for a Veterans Day ceremony.
Most of the ride's participants were veterans of wars spanning from World War II to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ronald Wilson didn't ride, but met the procession at the cemetery in his Air Force dress blues. He served for more than 28 years in the Air Force, deploying to Vietnam and Desert Storm. He retired as a chief master sergeant and is the program manager at Casey Memorial Library on post.
Wilson only puts his uniform on two times a year: Veterans Day and Memorial Day. He does it to pay respect to fallen service members and those who currently serve around the world.
People often let things like Veterans Day come and go and don't take the time to reflect, Lynch said during the ceremony.
He told the crowd of veterans from past wars that he and the service members of today wold carry on the tradition of service to the nation.
"Now it's our turn," Lynch said.
Dale and Stephanie Garrett never served in the military, but they participate in as many Patriot Guard rides they can. Their nephew is preparing for another deployment.
"You can't do enough for the people who fight for our freedom," Dale said before the ride.
The ride was great, the Garretts said, because so many could come together to honor the military.
"They're the ones who got us what (we've) got today," Dale said. "A lot of people don't take that to heart."
During the pre-ride address at Hood Stadium, Lynch asked veterans of previous wars to stand. He then singled out an 83-year-old World War II veteran who was set to participate in the ride. Thank you for your service, Lynch told him. While soldiers today complain about 12- and 15-month deployments, some World War II veterans spent five years in Europe and Asia. They mounted up and didn't come home until they were done, Lynch added. The crowd then gave the man a standing ovation.
"Everyone out there hopes when they're 83, they're still riding on their Harleys," Lynch joked.