By the mid-1990s, a rise in motorcycle-related injuries and deaths among active duty service members and veterans inspired the creation of the Green Knights Military Motorcycle Club. Since its founding in 1997, the Green Knights has established 93 clubs worldwide, mostly based on or near USAF installations. Its 10,000 members ride together in small groups and learn from each other.
"A lot of Soldiers and Airmen get deployed, get an adrenaline rush, return, get a bike, and do crazy stuff," said Green Knights Chapter 20 Secretary Dave Doane. "Fifteen Airmen died this year (in motorcycle accidents). It's a lot of fun until you make a mistake."
Joint Base Andrews is home to several members of Green Knights Chapter 20, which includes riders from all branches of military service who live in the national capital region.
Approximately 115 riders out of JBA, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Fort Meade, the Pentagon and Fort Belvoir have some connection to Green Knights Chapter 20; a core group of about 15 riders gets together regularly for weekend rides around the region. They focus on "formation riding," in which the entire group rides two abreast in a single travel lane, with a measured distance between each bike.
"It's about discipline. The thrill you get is a different kind of thrill. You're protected, you're connected," said Doane. "As we connect with younger riders, we hope to save some lives."
That desire to make riding a safer kind of adventure means that Green Knights clubs encourage riders to follow USAF safety gear regulations, and has a safety briefing before each group ride.
"It's a personal thing, to see a lot of your fellow military members going down young. You ask, 'What can I do?' and realize you can offer mentorship to fellow troops," said Eric Parker. In his role as GKMMC Chapter 20 Sargent-at-Arms, Parker instructs riders on how to maintain the proper formation, and helps keep the group safe in traffic. "We like to have fun while we're out there, riding. If we're going to police anything, it's safety. We just don't want to have people think we're just riders with no discipline."
Paid members of the Green Knights are authorized to wear the club's patch. Unlike "one percenter" clubs with a three-part patch, the Green Knights patch is a single, shield-shaped design.
"We're not a 'bad boy' club," said Parker.
Many chapter members are also motorcycle commuters.
"Last year, I didn't ride 19 days, but we had that very mild winter," said Vice President Steve Owens, who commutes with his wife on their motorcycle every day. "When I saw last week that I was spending $4.07 a gallon on my gas, I was glad to be on my bike."
Mike Holmes started riding so he could commute to work, and joined the Green Knights after seeing their booth at this summer's JBA Motorcycle Safety Day.
"I was sick and tired of the Metro, and parking at Bethesda pushed it over," said Holmes.
Ride Director Verdis Jones sets up events around the region. Most weekends, the group meets near JBA and rides in formation on what Jones calls "man vs food" tours to restaurants and other hangouts.
"We avoid 'bad' biker bars. We don't want people to see our patch at a place like that and have them think that the Green Knights supports that behavior," Jones said.
Newest member Nicole Savoy chose the Green Knights after researching several motorcycle clubs and riders' associations.
"Working for the military, I know they look out for their people and hold themselves to a certain standard," said Savoy.
The group also hosts group picnics, family get-togethers, and fundraisers to support the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home. In August, they donated approximately $350 worth of kitchen supplies to the veterans home, purchased using funds raised at an Independence Day event. On Sept. 29-30, they will participate in the 1,000-mile Not Alone ride to raise awareness for service members with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. It's all part of honoring who they are as military members.
"You can ride by yourself and that's OK, but when you're riding with a group it's a lot different experience. The camaraderie--it's fun being a unit," said Doane. "We're looking out for each other. It's not about how fast you take the curve. It's a lot of courtesy and communication."
The Green Knights are aware that "cage drivers," as they call the rest of us on four wheels, might not be sure what to think about a group of patch-wearing motorcyclists riding in formation.
"A good majority of the people out there are just riders with wind in their hair," said Parker. "It's the ones that go out there and act the fool that create a bad name for the average rider. They get to stunting, make it look bad. Bikes are not there to terrorize you. Maintain your riding style, speed and lane and they'll go right past you."
Parker encourages drivers who see a group riding in formation to let the group travel together--don't try to squeeze your SUV into the middle of the group as they ride.