APG general hosts roundtable

Major Gen. Bruce Crawford, commanding general of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronic Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, listens to a question during a media roundtable discussion he hosted Friday morning. (BRYNA ZUMER | AEGIS STAFF / Baltimore Sun Media Group / August 22, 2014)

Army Maj. Gen. Bruce Crawford says he regularly sees people come up and thank soldiers and he wants to make sure that continues.

"There is a lot going on here at this installation," Crawford said. "After 13 years of war, there is one heck of a story to be told."

The leader of one of Aberdeen Proving Ground's major commands, Crawford said he wants to make sure the Army has the public's trust, both on and off the post.

That was the thrust of the message that Crawford, commanding general of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command, or CECOM, presented during an unusual media roundtable Friday morning.

"We have got to talk to the people," Crawford told a group of about 10 members of the media and local military partners at the post's Top of the Bay officers' club.

Crawford, who became CECOM's 14th commander May 20, said the Army is ultimately about maintaining trust with the American people.

He explained he wants to build community trust about programs such as JLENS, a defense surveillance initiative which will soon bring two missile-tracking blimps, or aerostats, to the APG and the Baltimore area.

APG representatives have held community meetings and visited the Harford County Council recently in an effort to calm fears the JLENS aerostats will be used to spy on people.

The post had a "big welcome" Aug. 18 for soldiers from Utah arriving for the program, Crawford said, and he wants the soldiers to connect with people in the community.

"I have got to make sure I am out in the community talking about what it is and what it is not," Crawford said, adding he has "to make sure we are doing a good job of telling the story."

The potential for future federal budget sequestration is affecting the Army mostly by "uncertainty, more than anything," he said.

"Ultimately, we are not going to be able to maintain the numbers we have had," he said, reflecting other officials' comments about a downsized, or "right-sized," Army.

Both Crawford and Alice Williams, the command's chief associate director for small business programs, said CECOM is very focused on building relationships with businesses.

The command wants to have a leadership development seminar to discuss barriers to entry for businesses working with the Army, they said.

Crawford also said the Army wants to build a more open campus, while still addressing security concerns brought to the forefront by violence like the two mass shootings at Fort Hood in Texas.

The command is holding an event Oct. 9 called "A Reminder of Why We Serve" that will be open to the public, Crawford said.

"The root cause of [violence and security threats] is people forget why it is they chose to put the uniform on, or they forget why they chose to serve," he said.

Crawford said he also wants to see more automated security at the gate that will allow deeper background searches on those who enter the post.

"We have got to automate the process and provide as many tools as we can to first responders," he explained, while also stressing the need to have better access for those who work there and the general public.

One such step includes discussion about opening the Route 22 gate on weekends instead of just the central gate closer to Route 715. The Route 22 gate is the principal entrance for employees and contractors, while visitors to the post are directed to Route 715.

APG spokesman Kelly Luster said the proposal is still in the discussion phase and any traffic changes would need to be coordinated with the ongoing road construction around the Route 22 gate.

Crawford said he wants to remind the nation that "it still adores its military" and to remind the civilian population "that you never need to stop saying 'thank you.'"

He also called attention to the large number of engineers, doctoral candidates and "intellectual capital" on the post.

"I think we are punching way above our weight," he said. "There is a broader thing happening here at Aberdeen Proving Ground that is here to be leveraged."

A native of Columbia, S.C., Crawford was commissioned by the Army in 1986 and most recently served as director of C4/Cyber and as chief information officer for the U.S. European Command. He was promoted to major general in July.

CECOM, which moved its headquarters to APG four years ago from Fort Monmouth, N.J., has 13,000 personnel across five organizations, two of which, Logistics and Readiness Center and Software Engineering Center, are based at the proving ground.