MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — The Air Force is testing whether the mission concept of mentorship can successfully be applied to off-duty motorcyclists.

Meeting at 10 bases across the service are motorcycle clubs that Air Force leaders hope will save lives.

“Just as we ask experienced operators to mentor and train our less experienced ones, I am asking experienced motorcyclists to mentor new riders and help them develop their skills and knowledge about riding,” the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. John Jumper, wrote in a Feb. 27 memo on the Air Force Safety Center’s Web site (

Twenty-four fatalities in fiscal 2003 is the impetus for the Air Force-wide network of motorcycle clubs. Most of the airmen died because they took unsafe risks or operated beyond their abilities, Jumper says.

In Pacific Air Forces, Misawa is the only test base for the new club, according to officials.

Misawa lost a motorcyclist in July 2003; the off-duty airman was killed after hitting a truck while traveling at a high rate of speed. It was one of four two-wheel vehicle fatalities in PACAF in fiscal years 2002 and 2003.

There have been no motorcycle fatalities in the theater during this fiscal year, Tech. Sgt. Christopher Dineen, a PACAF safety official noted.

Misawa’s club has already met twice. Over the next five months, organizers will gauge whether it’s a success in terms of numbers and mishaps — or lack thereof, said Tech. Sgt. Adan Martinez, the 35th Fighter Wing’s ground safety manager.

Martinez said he’ll report the club’s effectiveness to PACAF.

“Once the initial test phase has been completed, the clubs will be implemented throughout PACAF,” Dineen said in an e-mail.

The club is for military personnel, Defense Department employees and family members and geared especially toward younger and inexperienced riders, Martinez said, adding that it stresses “camaraderie, mentorship and mishap prevention.”

Fourteen riders turned out for the first meeting in early May.

“I think there are others who want to come in but they’re sitting on the fence,” he said. “They’re waiting to see what we’re all about, whether we’re going to be cool. They’re afraid we’re just going to be another Air Force style [organization] — really regimented. They want it to be owned by the riders.”

Martinez said the club won’t be forced on anyone, but “the door is always open.” Members are considering charging dues of $20 a year. They want to adopt club colors, maintain maps of local rides and sponsor safety and buyers’ clinics.

Misawa has two other motorcycle clubs — Koshen Cruisers and Misawa Thunder. To be a member, one must get sponsored, but anyone can go on Misawa Thunder’s group rides, said Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Bill Oldham, who’s been riding for 41 years.

Oldham, 50, said the Air Force club concept is a good one but it’s not for everyone. “Not everyone wants to ride with a group of people,” he said.

He cautioned that a large group of inexperienced motorcyclists riding together is “an accident waiting to happen.”

Martinez said inexperienced members will be assigned a road captain, who they’ll ride with until they’re more confident. No one will be pressured to do anything they’re not comfortable with.

“I think a lot of people are looking for the experienced people to help them out,” Martinez said.

For more information about the club, call DSN 226-2702.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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