Wheelspin Column – Bicycle News

By: AdvWisdom
Title: Wheelspin Column – Bicycle News
Sourced From: advwisdom.com/a/wheelspin-column-bicycle-news/
Published Date: Wed, 28 Jul 2021 19:16:37 +0000

| July 28, 2021

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USMC combat motorcycles

By Keith Dowdle

I’ve worked in the motorcycle industry for most of my life, but I enrolled in the United States Marine Corps when I was 24. I needed a short break to give the battered motorcycle dealer I worked at a chance to recover from the economic downturn in 1986, and I’ve always wanted to be a marine, so I raised my right hand and signed up. Shortly after graduating from bootcamp and elementary schools, I served in the Philippines with an infantry unit known as the Grunts in the Marine Corps, and I loved it. Every day was a new adventure and I really enjoyed being a grunt. Swinging through the jungle with my M16 – all these fun things.

Keith Dowdle and his Kawasaki KLX250 in Saudi Arabia
The author and his Kawasaki KLX250 in Saudi Arabia, around 1990.

But one afternoon my commander, the CO, called me into his office and told me I would be on the next plane back to Camp Pendleton and report to First Marine Division Combat Motorcycles. It turned out that an old high school friend of mine was made a Marine Corps officer several years before I joined. He was now a captain and worked for the CO of the First Marine Division Schools seeking a qualified Marine with experience with off-road motorcycles to take the Combat Motorcycle Operators Course. My name was at the top of their list of candidates, and I was about to be given a whole new job teaching Marines how to operate a motorcycle for tactical reconnaissance. For the next two years, I rode motorcycles every day, taught marines how to ride dirt bikes, and had the absolute best job imaginable. My CO gave me autonomy and authority, and I pretty much ran my own program.

All the fun and games ended on August 1, 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. I have been ordered to report to duty under the Commanding General (CG) of the First Marine Division in Saudi Arabia. I got there in mid-August and waited with a few thousand other Marines at the dock of a large shipping port for the Maritime Prepositioning Ships (MPS) to arrive. These MPS ships are positioned around the world and are equipped with everything the Marine Corps needs to get into combat quickly. When the ships arrived, to my surprise, I actually had a fleet of combat motorcycles available. The bikes we used at the time were Kawasaki KLR250s that were slightly modified for military use, basically just a green paint job, some extra impact protection and blackout lights for night use. After the bikes left the ship, I was told to set up a course and expect the first group of trainees in a few days.

Remember, we’re in the middle of the Arabian Desert – not exactly the best place to start teaching someone to ride a motorcycle. The sand there was deep and difficult, and to top it all off, the CG wanted these Marines to be trained in three days instead of three weeks, which was the length of the course at Camp Pendleton. For the next four months, I taught U.S. Marines, British Royal Marines, Navy Seals, Army Rangers, and some undisclosed people how to ride a motorcycle in the open desert. The directions were simple: get in, start it up and follow me. If you crash, get back in and catch up. Fortunately, during the entire time I only had three trainees with injuries that were so severe that they needed a paramedic. I call that damn good considering the circumstances.

January came and the war had started. I was still reporting to the CG, but now the mission had changed from training to surgery. Fifteen Marines from across the corps, all of whom were already qualified to operate combat motorcycles, were assigned to my protégé. I formed teams of two based on their driving skills and gave them the missions I believed they could do. I wanted the best riders with me and we took on the toughest missions simply because we can stay on bikes in deep sand. Our missions varied from day to day depending on what the CG required. Some days we acted as snipers putting down harassing fire (basically we were trying to get the Iraqis to shoot back at us so we could identify their exact location), some days we did scouting missions to locate enemy units and report their location or call for fire, and at other times we carried out fragment orders and map overlays to various commanders on the front lines of battle.

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Not quite the I-405 freeway in LA

The scariest missions were when we were sent up to get intelligence reports from our Force Recon guys. You’ve probably never heard of Force Recon, but they’re the baddest of the baddies. Guys trained as both Navy Seals and Army Rangers (and probably lots of other things we shouldn’t know about). These guys were dressed like locals (think Taliban) – beards and everything – and they were as far away as possible. They were hard to find and once we found them we weren’t always sure if they were friendly as they looked so much like the locals. Tiptoe in and if they haven’t started shooting they are probably the guys we’re looking for, that was our strategy.

The land war in the Gulf lasted exactly a hundred hours, and some people belittle our service in this war because of it, but we were surrounded by death and destruction and feared for our lives every day. I’m glad it was short and even happier that I never saw a dead American. There were deaths, but nobody in my unit died, and if we’re not heroes because of that, that’s fine with me. Combat Motorcycles ultimately led to a fantastic career in the motorcycle industry for me, and I know the other Marines I have served with achieved great things in their lives too. Some of us plan to ride together again, hopefully this time without anyone shooting at us. CN

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