Well, it was good while it lasted: summer vacations, swimming pool parties and backyard barbecues. However, it's time to start thinking about back-to-school activities with a reminder about safety and the expectations of increased traffic on and off post.

We all know that the morning rush hour turns into a jumble of SUVs, minivans and four-way flashers blinking as kids with backpacks hop in and out of vehicles. Time management is a critical planning factor when we know there will be increased traffic congestion caused by school buses and parents driving their children to school. We all need to be extra careful in the mornings and afternoon hours when school traffic is at its peak.

I am asking everyone to be patient as back-to-school traffic hits our roadways. Safety officers tell me that traffic is always the worst for the first few days of a new school year as everyone gets into their back-to-school mindset and parents learn, or re-learn, their loading and unloading routines.

Here are a few back-to-school driving reminders:

* Plan ahead. Leave a few minutes early and build in extra time for congestion. Remember to take extra precautions, especially the first day of school. It can be a little hectic as children are excited about getting back in the classroom and seeing their friends. They may forget about caution and safety.

* Come to a complete stop at intersections with stop signs. Research shows that more than one third of drivers roll through stop signs in school zones and neighborhoods.

* Always stop for loading or unloading school buses. It may be tempting to drive around stopped school buses, but not only is it dangerous, it's against the law.

* Parents of teenage drivers need to remind their teen to obey the traffic law and use caution. It's better to be late than not show up at all.

When everyone uses a little common sense and makes obeying traffic laws a priority, the first days of school can be safe ones for our children. Let's stay alert and drive cautiously through posted school zones.

On another note, I have been getting questions about my goals as the new garrison commander. I wish I could answer these questions right now; however, I'm still listening and learning from you about everything happening at and around Fort Meade.

What I can share with you is that the goals I set will be centered on my core values: family, faith, integrity, discipline and helping others. I want Fort Meade to be a place the entire community enjoys. For that to happen I know I have to focus not just on the workforce within the gates, but reach out to our neighbors and community groups outside the fence lines. We have so many events and activities happening every week. And I want you all to take part in these activities and enjoy all that Fort Meade has to offer.

Speaking of events, this Saturday the U.S. Army Field Band will continue its annual Summer Concert Series with a performance by The Volunteers at Constitution Park at 7 p.m. On Aug. 27, all four components of the Field Band will perform in a special 65th anniversary concert that celebrates the Army's premiere music organization. The concerts are free! Please come out and enjoy the music.

This past weekend, I had a chance to get out and enjoy The Courses at Fort Meade. No need to boast about my score. Let's just say, I played 18 holes. I hit some good ones and I hit a few balls I'd like to have back. Bottom line: I had a blast and felt good enough about my golf game that I plan to do it again soon.

This weekend is the annual Lanes to Links Tournament that Audrey and I will participate in. It starts at the Lanes with a 10-game baker, eight-pin game of bowling, followed by a continental breakfast. The tournament then moves onto the Courses for a shotgun-start golf tournament.

You will hear me talk about balance every chance I get. We owe it to ourselves to achieve a balance between our work hours and the life we lead outside our professional capacity. I am committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure Fort Meade is a place where balance is achievable. I hope you agree that balance in life is important and that you'll join me in making it an important part of your life as well.

That's it for now. Remember, if you have a good idea that can make Fort Meade a better place to work, live and serve in the military, feel free to contact me or our Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Charles Smith.