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Aberdeen Proving Ground opens the gates to its neighbors

In what organizers say is a first, Aberdeen Proving Ground is opening its gates to its neighbors this week for a free four-day celebration.

The Army base in Harford County is staging its version of Germany's Oktoberfest from Thursday through Sunday. On tap: German food and beer, a festhalle with live entertainment and all the conviviality the military can muster.

The purpose of the party, APG spokeswoman Teresa A. Kaltenbacher said, is "to enhance community relations and highlight the towns and counties." It follows BRAC, the nationwide base realignment process that has brought thousands of newcomers — military and civilian — to the post.

About 22,000 people now work at APG, an increase of nearly 10,000 jobs since BRAC was announced in 2005. Nearly 10,000 more work as contractors supporting the agencies on the base. Many have relocated to Harford and Cecil counties.

"Over the past five or so years, Aberdeen Proving Ground and the surrounding community have been occupied and absorbed with Base Realignment and Closure," said Glenn Wait, the deputy garrison commander. "Throughout this time, the community has opened their arms to welcome us."

The festival, he said, "is an opportunity for us to demonstrate our appreciation to our community partners, our workforce, and our friends and families for their ongoing support during this challenging transition."

Post neighbors are responding with enthusiasm.

"APG is reaching out to us," said Christopher G. Schlehr, Bel Air's town administrator. "We want to grab their hand and do as good a job as we can to solidify a relationship."

Brigitte Peters is tourism director for Havre de Grace.

"Throughout the BRAC process, many of us have been to relocation fairs and met the people who eventually have moved to our communities," she said. "We have seen the teamwork in place at APG, as we planned this festival together. Now it's a chance to go through those gates and learn even more about them."

Wait said the festival will also give neighbors an opportunity to meet the base's new leadership.

Eddie Hopkins, president of the Bel Air board of commissioners, credited Maj. Gen. Robert S. Ferrell, who took command at the proving ground in February, with understanding "the relationship that must exist between a military installation and its surrounding communities."

Wait said "APG and the community have a long and proud history of working together in partnership for nearly a century. We want to continue to build upon relationships that already exist with our community partners and make them even stronger."

Since many of the soldiers on the post have served tours in Germany, organizers said, an Oktoberfest could rekindle fond memories.

Each of the four days will highlight a different community — Aberdeen, Bel Air, Havre de Grace and Cecil County.

Havre de Grace Mayor Wayne H. Dougherty called the festival "a reach-out to all of us. I expect residents from here will show up in large numbers and show off their community pride."

Admission is free. Visitors, 18 years and older, must present valid identification, such as a drivers license, to gain entry to the post.

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