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(Enlarge) Sgt. 1st Class John Arnold plows over safety cones while wearing "drunk goggles." The drunk goggle ride, which attempts to show the impact of alcohol on a driver's performance, was organized by Navy Information Operations Command Maryland for Fort Meade's 2010 Safety, Health and Wellness Expo/Safety Stand-Down held May 20 at the Pavilion. (Staff photo by Matt Roth)

Never has the word safety been such a crowd-pleaser as it appeared to be last week on Fort Meade.

The installation's 2010 Safety, Health and Wellness Expo/Safety Stand-Down recorded its largest crowd in five years.

Held May 20 at the Pavilion, the free event brought together 1,500 to 2,500 post employees, tenant unit members and families for a host of activities and exhibits devoted to educating the public on health matters and safe practices.

Around 60 vendors, ranging from power tool makers to jazzercise promoters, were on hand, offering everything from handouts to candy for the service members and civilians who milled about.

Attendance jumped from the 1,200 estimated to have visited last year's event. The higher numbers come as the Installation Safety Office partnered with tenant units such as First Army Division East and the 902nd Military Intelligence Group in both putting on the event and inviting their staffs to the expo.

Attendees didn't simply look at displays. The expo featured multiple exhibits that encouraged hands-on learning.

"It's one thing to have a safety stand-down and show people a bunch of PowerPoint slides," said Kirk Fechter, Fort Meade safety director and head of the ISO. "This is really a great way to get that variety of safety presentation and a human face you can talk to."

Expo visitors were greeted by a hands-on activity before even entering the Pavilion. Outside the structure, the Maryland State Police Department set up its Seatbelt Convincer, a ride that shows the importance of a seat belt in even a low-speed collision.

After volunteers hopped into the ride and properly attached their seat belts, they slid down a short ramp before coming to an abrupt halt that left some riders slightly sore or with clenched teeth. The jolt was equivalent to a 10 mph crash, said State Police Trooper 1st Class Ian Rola who supervised the exhibit.

"That thing hit me right here," said Maj. Oliver Welch of First Army Division East as he tapped the center of his chest. "Hopefully, it will make people drive more defensively."

Behind the Pavilion, members of Navy Information Operations Command Maryland hosted an exhibit showing the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol.

In a short course set up by NIOC, volunteers were challenged to drive a golf cart around traffic cones while wearing goggles designed to simulate the impaired vision of inebriated drivers.

For most drivers, the task was too much and they would leave a trail of crushed and knocked over cones behind them. Midway through the expo, organizers such as Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Wazny, a NIOC safety representative, had seen motorists veer completely off the course into a field beyond. Wazny witnessed one driver collide with 13 cones.

"It's a fun little tool to show the effects of blurred vision," Wazny said.

The poor driving elicited laughs and jokes from spectators. The real-life consequence of such driving could be deadly. Each of the cones struck down was meant to signify a man, woman, child or pet that would have been killed, a fact that wasn't lost on attendees such as Sgt. 1st Class Uhura Davis of the 704 Military Intelligence Brigade.

"That's somebody's mother, somebody's child," she said.

Davis attended with a group of junior Soldiers from her unit, and after they left they planned to hold a formation to discuss lessons learned, she said.

"[The expo is] real good," she said. "It's funny, but you can still learn from it at the same time."

Send comments or questions to amccombs@patuxent.com.

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