The Associated Press State & Local Wire February 6, 2006 Monday 3:11 AM GMT HEADLINE: Troops returning from war zones dying on motorcycles DATELINE: CAMP LEJEUNE N.C. More troops have died in off-duty motorcycle accidents after they returned from duty in Afghanistan than have been killed fighting there since Sept. 11, 2001, safety records show. Military commanders in North Carolina say the deaths are largely the result of boredom, bonus pay, and adrenalin to burn off after troops return from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly 350 troops have died on bikes since the 2001 terrorist attacks. That's compared to 259 killed while serving in Afghanistan. Nearly 1,000 more troops have been injured on bikes. Marine Lance Cpl. Mark Strickland, 24, was one of five Marines from Camp Lejeune who were involved in serious motorcycle crashes in October. Four of them had been home just a few weeks from combat in Iraq's deadly Anbar Province. Three of the Marines were killed and another lost a leg. "When the doctor told me that he was dead, I told him that wasn't acceptable, it just wasn't acceptable," said Andrea Strickland, 22, the widow of Mark Strickland. "I said, 'He just got back from a war zone, and you're going to tell me that he died doing something he loved?' " The problem could get worse as some 20,000 Marines and sailors begin returning to bases in North Carolina over the coming weeks. "Our goal is not to see the same thing happen," said Lt. Gen. James F. Amos, commander of the Camp Lejeune-based II Marine Expeditionary Force. Amos described the crashes in October as "a cold shot to the heart" and ordered a crackdown. The following month normal base operations were halted to focus on safety, particularly for motorcyclists. Camp Lejeune also added safety programs and re-emphasized existing ones. These include a mentor program Amos created that's being considered as a model for the entire Marine Corps. The Army hasn't been immune to off-duty motorcycle deaths, with more than 40 in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. The Army chief of staff issued a memo in December that urge experienced riders to cut the accident rate by mentoring beginners. The military has enough of a challenge maintaining a force that repeated deployments have left severely stretched, according to two reports released last month one commissioned by the Pentagon, the other by Congressional Democrats. In response to the motorcycle injuries, Maj. Gen. Robert C. Dickerson Jr., who oversees most of the Marine Corps' East Coast facilities, has visited area motorcycle dealers and asked them to pass out Corps-funded $100 vouchers to Marine customers for the safety classes. "I've owned three motorcycles, and they're a lot of fun, but you've got to be careful," Dickerson said. He says the Marines need risk-takers but it's crucial to draw a line between courage and recklessness. Troops say the bikes fill the adrenalin void they left behind in the war zone. "Riders who have been in accidents have told us that it's the legal crack cocaine," said J.T. Coleman, a civilian spokesman for the Army's Combat Readiness Center in Fort Rucker, Ala., which tracks accidents among soldiers. "They say it gives them the same adrenaline rush they get driving their tank through Baghdad or whatever."