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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — After a winter hibernation, it’s open season for motorcycles at Misawa again.

But before the base’s 150 or so active-duty and civilian riders get complacent on the roads or rev their motors without proper certification, base officials are hauling them in for a mandatory safety briefing Saturday.

It’s an annual rite of spring geared to eliminate motorcycle crashes, which since 1996 have killed four Misawa airmen.

“Our goal is to have no motorcycle mishaps the whole riding season,” said Tech. Sgt. Antonio Exum, noncommissioned officer in charge of 35th Fighter Wing ground safety.

It’s a lofty aim, but base officials have reason to be optimistic since motorcycle and dirt-bike accidents sharply declined to three and no deaths at Misawa last year, following 12 in 2005, including a fatality, according to safety statistics.

“We’re happy,” Exum said, attributing the promising trend to an increased motorcycle safety focus within Pacific Air Forces.

Speed, however, continues to be a factor in Misawa motorcycle crashes, Exum said, with riders on fast bikes pushing the envelope beyond their experience level.

Seasoned riders also can be challenged by such hazards as Japan’s smaller traffic lanes and mountain highways with no guardrails, Exum said.

This year, riders won’t have to contend with any changes to the already complicated list of military regulations governing motorcycle usage in Japan. However, the ever-unpopular international orange or lime-green vests are still mandatory.

Safety officials on Saturday will answer commonly asked questions such as: “‘Can I just get on my bike and ride if I have an endorsement on my stateside driver’s license?” Exum said. The answer: PACAF requires motorcyclists to also complete beginner motorcycle safety foundation training and a refresher course every three years before hitting the roads.

A valid stateside driver’s license and U.S. Forces Japan Form 4EJ also are required.

Although motorcyclists have been riding since the season opened March 23 at Misawa, Exum cautioned that anyone without proper certification could see their license yanked if caught. After completing training, riders get a motorcycle safety foundation card, which they must take to the base pass and registration office to get a motorcycle stamp on their USFJ license.

Saturday’s briefing begins at 10 a.m. in the Richard Bong Theater and is expected to last about 50 minutes. Attendance will be taken. Anyone unable to attend should get in touch with the safety office to schedule a separate briefing.

A voluntary ride along Falcon Drive and the flight line will follow the briefing.

Scheduled rider course:

First-time active-duty and civilian riders at Pacific Air Forces bases must take the beginner motorcycle safety foundation course, while experienced riders need refresher training every three years. The courses are free. At Misawa, sign up at the 35th Fighter Wing safety office, or call DSN 226-2706 for more information. Upcoming classes will be offered at Misawa on the following dates:

Beginner Rider’s Course April 7-8, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.April 26-27, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.May 7-8, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.May 17-18, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Experienced Rider’s Course April 7, 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.April 15, 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.April 28, 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.May 12, 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.May 19, 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

— Jennifer H. Svan

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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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