Military officials in the Florida Panhandle are pushing motorcycle safety after the deaths of two active-duty service members this month.
Senior Airman Ignacio Arostegui died in a Feb. 3 motorcycle crash in Destin, and five days later Staff Sgt. Andrew Koerner died when his motorcycle crashed into a pickup truck. A Crestview resident also died in the Feb. 8 crash. Both crashes remain under investigation.
"We're really pushing the program everywhere, to keep service members continually aware," said David Clingerman, the safety program manager for the Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne). "All of us have moments in life when we let our guard down, we don't want that to be on a bike."
The Northwest Florida Daily News reports at least five active-duty service members have died in motorcycle crashes in northwest Florida since 2008, including Arostegui and Koerner.
Clingerman said the Department of Defense implemented stringent safety requirements after recognizing the number of motorcycle-related fatalities among members of the military in recent years.
"A lot of these soldiers, they go for pretty long deployments, save up some money and, especially the younger ones, they like to buy some toys with that money. A lot end up buying a motorcycle," he said.
Motorcycle riders must register with military safety officials, attend mandatory motorcycle safety training courses and wear protective and reflective gear, including a helmet.
More than 1,500 service members in the Panhandle are currently registered motorcyclists, according to military safety officials.
Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field hold motorcycle safety rallies, and attendance is required for registered riders.
Clingerman also hosts group mentor rides where more experienced motorcyclists can ride with newer ones to pass on safety tips. He said the programs appear to be working: the number of service members killed in motorcycle crashes each year has dropped to roughly 10. That number was 30 to 50 each year a decade ago.