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As another wintry dawn approaches, access to the base can be harrowing not only for Naval Air Station Patuxent River commuters, but for the installation’s gate sentries as well. Patience and empathy are the best practices commuters can take to understand the challenges these sentries encounter.

Department of Navy police officers, military masters-at-arms and the Auxiliary Security Forces (ASF) from tenant commands constitute the naval air station’s security for the base. Similar to postal employees enduring the elements of rain, sleet, snow and other adverse weather conditions, the men and women of the security department are always standing guard as the gatekeepers of NAS Pax River.

A combination of these three components guard the gates 24/7 ensuring only those with the proper credentials are allowed through. What most don’t know is there’s a lot more going on than a simple check of a person’s ID.

“Many drivers may not notice, but our security team is also visually scanning each vehicle for signs of hidden dangers, inside and out,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Bernardo Escalet, the installation’s security officer. Escalet added that while this may cause a small delay at times, it’s worth the wait if it means preventing a loss of life or some other catastrophe. “Sentries are committed to an unwavering stance to accomplish their force protection mission,” he said.

While congestion at the gates is frustrating, it’s important for drivers to continue to drive safely and obey the traffic laws. St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Department Deputies have been posted at various intersections these past few months ensuring just that, citing drivers who are “blocking the box,” or stopped in an intersection.

“Being in the intersection when the light turns red prevents traffic from flowing,” Sheriff Tim Cameron said in a recent local newspaper article. “It poses a public safety hazard.”

In Maryland, no person may stop or stand, or park a vehicle in an intersection; the fine is $70. In addition, by obeying the traffic signals and not blocking the box, drivers can help ease the congestion by making the ID check process simpler for the sentries.

Slow down. Drivers should be mindful of each sentry’s safety and slow down when approaching and leaving the sentry. Note that some lanes have sentries close to both sides of the vehicles.

Drivers, including motorcyclists, should have their ID card(s) out and readily available for the sentry.

Have the windows down upon approach.

Turn off the radio.

As of Jan. 8, all NCACS holders are required to present a second form of acceptable ID for access.

Escalet added that commuters should be prepared when 100 percent ID checks are required as an additional force protection measure.

“Everyone in the vehicle should have their ID cards readily available when the 100 percent ID check signs are posted at the gates,” he said.

Although the holiday season is behind us, the symbolic metaphors of “peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind” can be shared each day with a few kind words and a smile to sentries protecting our gates.