Col. Daniel Kral, the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center director, takes a group of servicemen riders to the Lone Star Motorcycle Museum in Vanderpool, Texas, through the motorcycle mentorship program at Fort Sam Houston. (Courtesy photo)
In fiscal year 2014, 29 Army motorcycle fatalities have occurred through Aug. 20, according to the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center. Three of those fatalities were U.S. Army Medical Command Soldiers during a three-week period in May and June 2014. After the MEDCOM safety director learned of the fatality trends, and the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command chief of staff learned of the areas for improvement in current motorcycle mentorship programs, the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center Director Col. Daniel Kral was selected as the USAMRMC’s first senior motorcycle mentor.
Kral was chosen as the command’s senior mentor to help improve the units’ safety and motorcycle mentorship programs. This selection was based on his extensive motorcycle experience, including 37 years of riding, as well as his personal passion for reducing military casualties through mentorship.
Throughout the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of Defense witnessed a spike in motorcycle fatalities for a variety of war and non-war related issues. Even more disturbing to the DoD, during various periods of two major simultaneous conflicts, motorcycle fatalities were eclipsing combat casualties. After the DoD released its guidance to the services on motorcycle mentorship programs in 2004, Kral began to express an interest in the concept as a means of stemming the casualty rates affecting the country’s ranks. He found particularly intriguing the idea that installations would partner with existing riding clubs or encourage the creation of a new club.
In 2007, after returning from overseas assignments in Germany and Iraq, Kral researched and founded the first military mentorship club for motorcyclists--the Green Knights Military Motorcycle Club--and subsequently requested a chapter number for Fort Sam Houston based on the DoD-approved motorcycle mentorship charter. His commitment to that club and its mission lasted for five years until his permanent change of station move to Fort Detrick in February 2013.
Upon arrival at Fort Detrick, Kral immediately sought out the installation safety office to discuss the potential for establishing a mentorship effort on the installation. From those early meetings came a series of Fort Detrick bike nights, which emphasized riders gathering with other riders and forming the beginnings of motorcycle mentorship. This idea corresponded with the thought of bringing back to the installation local retirees who might be interested in meeting with younger military riders and subsequently serving in a mentorship role.
“What do bikers like to do? We like to gather. We don’t do anything particularly special when we gather; just talk, admire other motorcycles and discuss opportunities for riding throughout the area. But during those events, mentorship is actually occurring when you don’t even know it,” said Kral.
Kral’s motivation to provide mentorship stems from his belief that reducing motorcycle fatalities in the country’s ranks is more about changing behavior than inspecting someone’s motorcycle or personal protective equipment.
“The motorcycle fatality numbers are telling. Over 80 percent of our fatalities are men in their 20s, and the majority of them were the result of actions by the rider himself. Poor decisions and a sense of invincibility are two traits unfortunately often associated with younger men, and when combined with something like a motorcycle, the outcomes can be disastrous. Through motorcycle mentorship, the hope is to affect the fatality curve in a positive direction by encouraging our fellow riders to make good decisions,” said Kral.
By organizing regular bike nights on post that include food, music and an outlet for motorcyclists to bond over their shared interest, Kral believes the installation can provide a win-win situation in which local retirees and younger service members can benefit from each other.
“You start to see informal mentorship take place without it being a mandated military program. You’ve got a younger rider who may exhibit some reckless habits in their riding style now pairing up with a more experienced rider with so much to offer in the way of safe riding. For younger servicemen and women who are not originally from this area, the added benefit is finding out about all the great riding routes, local motorcycle events and safe hangouts where fellow riders like to gather. They also find out about areas to avoid.”
The bike nights give local retirees who ride a reason to reconnect with their military roots by visiting Fort Detrick and meeting young men and women who are at the beginning of a career the retirees have completed. Motorcycles are the central focus, but the mentorship goes beyond bikes.
“Retirees don’t often have a good connection to their past professional life. If they’ve served 20, 30 or 40 years in the military, they often long for that connection when they leave,” said Kral. “When they come back to Fort Detrick for these events, they’ll meet some young person who they were like when they were young, and they can help them.
”As the senior motorcycle mentor for the command, Kral hopes to facilitate a command mentorship program and assist the USAMRMC safety manager in developing a comprehensive motorcycle safety policy and realistic command-wide motorcycle safety program.
“The primary motorcycle mentor is the USAMRMC motorcycle safety subject matter expert,” said Safety Manager Geoffrey Phillips. “Kral is an experienced rider who can assist with clinics and seminars and answering people’s questions.”
Kral’s responsibilities include assisting the subordinate units in implementing their motorcycle mentorship program, coaching, sending out motorcycle safety alerts and tracking the training motorcyclists receive. Since some of the USAMRMC units only have one rider, he or she now has an experienced point of contact to seek counsel.
“If the installation believes in the concept, we can do this,” said Kral. “It’s really all about support; we have enough people interested in participating in the program that if we have the right kind of support, it can be really successful.”