MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C.-- -- In the wee morning hours of any given work day, small sports cars, hefty pickup trucks and minivans with family in tow are waved through the front gate by military police as they commute to work, school and day care in what is commonly called the “morning rush.” While this is nothing new, drivers on the roads may notice they have more company than usual – from bumper to bumper.
As II Marine Expeditionary Force forward returns to the States, an increase in population in the area is understandable. According to Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Schismenos, traffic division chief for MCB, the population surge is greatly visible from the road, especially at choke points such as the front gate.
"We do traffic surveys, and we basically count cars. We count the traffic flow to see how many vehicles come on board. We did on in September of 2005, and the average was about 26,000," said Schismenos. "We just did another survey, and we counted approximately 30,000."
According to base statistics, as many as 23,000 Marines are in the process of redeployment from supporting the Global War on Terrorism. That could possibly affect the local area - residents may have to make adjustments to compensate for time spent staring at tail lights.
"We have (physical training) in the morning at 0600. I generally leave half an hour prior because at that time, traffic isn't that bad that early in the morning," said Sgt. Michael Baker, ordnance chief with 5th Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, who lives in Richlands.
"On circumstances where I would come to work at 0700, when there is heavy traffic, or when we're coming back from a 72 or 96, I'll leave my house an hour and a half prior so that I end up being where I'm supposed to be in a timely manner. I may get where I'm supposed to be early, but it's better to be early than to be late,” said Baker.
While traffic here isn’t comparable to a major metropolitan area, Baker isn't the only one who's waking earlier to get to work on time. Sgt. Stephen Spadaro, supply chief for 2nd Tank Battalion’s Company B, has noticed the trek from the front gate to a destination on Hadnot Point takes longer than before.
"I live in Midway Park, right over the bridge. I still leave half an hour or forty-five minutes prior because people are making u-turns. People try to take the easy way, and they congest traffic.”
Because traffic is going slower, it may create the illusion that driving isn't as hazardous. Schizmenos reminds Marines driving is inherently dangerous, and drivers need to be highly aware of their surroundings wherever they are.
"We've had 110 traffic crashes for the month of February as of 27th, which is about 30 more than this same time last year,” he said, noting that most of those accidents occur in parking lots.
"The biggest (advice) is to leave early to avoid the rush, and if you can carpool, do that. Be patient and pay attention to the roadway,” advised Schismenos.
Sgt. Jason Gray, police sergeant for Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, recognizes that traffic is an inevitable obstacle that can be overcome.
"The biggest adjustment I have to make is looking out for myself when I'm driving. I'm busy looking to the left and to the right to make sure no one is going to run into me. Pay attention to what's going on around you. People may back into you or make a wrong turn. Don't block the intersections, things like that. People get in such a rush they do all the things that could cause an accident."
"Traffic crashes are part of force preservation because if a Marine gets in a traffic crash, they could get hurt, which means they'll be at sick call or in the hospital. They'll have to take time away from work to deal with their problem. If something happens to your car, you then have to worry about how you're going to get to and from work,” said Schismenos.
With all safety advise fresh in mind during high-traffic times, Gray admitted “rush hour” traffic can be trying. However, he found a way to cope with it.
"I listen to music or roll down the window. I have a stick shift, so that's even worse. You have to push in the clutch, go forward about two feet and put it back in neutral again," said Gray.
Regardless of how much planning is involved, at some time or another, it seems most Lejeune Marines will find themselves swallowed in a sea of tires. Looking left, right, forward and back, at least they know they're not alone.
"As far as patience goes, you've got to learn to live with it," continued Gray. "It's there, it's going to happen, and you’re not going to get around it. We might as well get used to it."