By June Whitlock
Special to GUIDON
It was early morning when I arrived at work for a 24-hour shift as the section leader at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting.
After taking care of some routine tasks around the office and meeting with the departing section leader, I gathered my notes and headed outside to hold morning formation.
The day was going smoothly and time seemed to fly by. That was about to change.
About lunchtime, I received a call from the wife of one of our Marines who was assigned to the Wing. She told me her husband, who we’ll call Cpl. John Doe, was involved in a motorcycle mishap.
He had been approaching a stop sign at about 5-10 mph when he lost control of his motorcycle and fell. Doe was wearing his personal protective equipment, but he failed to secure the chinstrap on his helmet.
As he tumbled to the ground, his helmet came off, allowing his unprotected head to strike the road.
When military police arrived on the scene, Doe was bleeding from the ear and became combative. First responders took the injured Marine to a local hospital, where he was rushed into surgery due to a brain hemorrhage.
Doctors placed Doe in a medically induced coma to keep him relaxed and planned to monitor him throughout the night.
We were told his chances of survival would be better if he made it through the night.
During the night, however, a blood clot formed in Doe’s brain and he was taken to the operating room for another surgery. Unfortunately, the surgeon returned shortly afterward and told us Doe was brain dead.
He was then placed on artificial life support until his parents could arrive at the hospital.
Prior to riding any motorcycle while on active duty, service members must complete all training requirements. Doe had completed all of his Marine Corps required training to operate a motorcycle on base.
I had even gone as far as telling my section Marines that if I saw them riding unsafely, I would contact the MPs and see if we could revoke their on-post driving privileges.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis, helmets saved the lives of an estimated 1,859 motorcyclists in 2016.
For a helmet to provide its full protective capabilities, though, riders must wear them correctly, ensuring it is properly secured to the head. Doe was already wearing his helmet. The second or two it would have taken him to fasten it securely would have kept this respected Marine in the fight and his family, friends and fellow service members from grieving his senseless death.
(Editor’s note: Whitlock is with Station Safety at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, San Diego, California.)