At first glance, a walk through Chris Haines’ motorcycle/all-terrain vehicle (ATV) adventure company in Lake Elsinore, Calif., appears similar to some other high-end off-road specialty facilities: well-organized work areas flanked by neat rows of racing and off-road motorcycles; a collection of saddle-seat ATVs; and a neatly parked assortment of Kawasaki side-by-side two-seat and four-seat ATV models. A background of mechanical activity surrounding some of the platforms adds an air of urgency to the modification efforts under way.
But it isn’t long before the eye catches a few unique discriminators, like the framed American flag that had previously flown over a special operations compound in Afghanistan or the challenge coins displayed beside Haines’ desk.
“I’ve been in off-roading for a good part of my life and I’ve had the off-road business for 26 years,” Haines explained. “I’ve raced in the Baja 1000 ‘20-some’ times and won the thing 13 times. So I guess with the experience that I had, the special operations folks kind of searched me out. They wanted somebody to train them to ride and drive off-road. They interviewed me and asked if I wanted to help train their operators in the field.”
Haines said that he originally started doing that training with the saddle-seat models, adding that the introduction of the Kawasaki Teryx 750 side-by-side Light Tactical ATV (LTATV) into Naval Special Warfare (NSW) inventories in the 2008 time frame led to an expansion of his training role to encompass the creation of pre-operation documentation and other supporting manuals for vehicle operation as well as the development of an additional training course covering mechanics training.
Haines noted that the majority of his motorcycle training activities currently involve both U.S. Army Special Operations Forces and elements of the British SAS, and that NSW was just starting to move into the motorcycle arena as well.
“But Naval Special Warfare’s main focus is on [the LTATVs] at this point,” he said.
Along with his NSW training activities on the West Coast, Haines also travels to the Virginia Beach area to provide training in that area as well.
For the LTATVs, Haines offers one-week courses of instruction for both operation/driving and mechanics. The operation/driving training typically takes place in the Mojave Desert while the mechanics training takes place in a classroom at the Lake Elsinore facility.
Walking into the shop area, Haines pointed to several Kawasaki Teryx vehicles equipped with a series of military modification kits.
“When we first started training with the saddle-seat ATVs for the rider training, they started talking about introducing these [Teryx] things,” he said. “And I bought this one and we’d take it along on the saddle-seat trainings in the desert. They would look at it, try it, and talk about it, and so we started evolving all those [kits] to make it what it is now.”
Past a row of civilian off-road and land speed racing bikes, the latter category including a 405-horsepower model capable of speeds of 240 mph on the salt flats, Haines entered the main classroom area used for both motorcycle and side-by-side mechanical training.
“Last week we had 12 students with six of these [Teryx] machines in here,” he said. “We dismantled them, put them back together, and went through all kinds of troubleshooting scenarios. We also have these bench motors where we can show the guys how to take the engines apart and put them back together – the whole deal.
“When we started this training they gave us some requirement guidelines,” Haines recalled. “So we started with the requirements for their operators and then tried to introduce some new things. I think part of the reason they hired me was so that I could pass along all the things my eyes have seen in ‘20-some’ years of doing this stuff, where maybe I could educate them on things to watch out for in the desert, how to read the terrain, how to get out of a tough spot, how to jury-rig things in the field to get out of there, and those kinds of things that you learn over the years.”
Characterizing the results as “unique skill sets,” he added, “You can go to classes that someone like me puts out, but there are no other places where you can learn some of those things unless you are doing it for a good part of your life. I mean, how can you tell somebody about some of those things unless you’ve lived it?”
He continued, “It’s also important to know that we are constantly evolving the courses with the feedback that we get from the students, because it is really important to us to teach information that is pertinent to what these guys do. So at the end of each course, we do a full critique where we get their input on what they thought of the course, what they learned, and anything they might have wanted to learn a little more about. Then each time that we get this information we are able to tweak the course going forward a little bit here and there to make it exactly what these guys need.”
Asked if he could offer a general example of the kinds of changes that have taken place within the course, he replied, “For instance, on the mechanical side of it, we had a lot of requests for how to troubleshoot in the field and if they had a problem how quickly they could evaluate the problem, fix the problem, and get going in the field. So we put a lot of focus on that now. That’s because a lot of the time ‘The Team Guys’ are way far away from the main base where they might have the Seabee mechanics. These guys are out there on their own. They may not need to know how to change the pistons in the motor because they’re never going to do that. But if they are in the field and the belt goes bad, the valves get tight, or the thing doesn’t want to start, they need to know how to deal with it in the field and get going.”
The feedback mechanism is also reinforced by a supporting follow-up communications environment.
“Along with all of the digital documentation, they have all of our contact information,” Haines said. “And sometimes our secretary walks out into the shop and says, ‘Hey there’s a guy on the phone from Afghanistan who wants to talk to you.’ And they’re calling on satellite telephones for advice about a particular issue. And we welcome those calls.”