While potential cuts of up to nearly 4,300 military and civilian jobs at Aberdeen Proving Ground are far from a done deal, Harford County leaders stressed the need Monday evening for local residents to get an early start on letting the Army know about the impact any such cuts will have on the region's largest employer and on their community.
"We need you to sign this declaration [of support], we need you to submit your comments, and we need you to become an informed defense community," County Executive David Craig told an audience of more than 250 people sitting in the auditorium of Aberdeen High School for a community forum about how Aberdeen might be impacted by the next round of military base closings and downsizing in the face of a smaller national defense budget.
Aberdeen Mayor Michael Bennett pledged his support, and the support of the Aberdeen City Council, to an Army post that has been his city's neighbor since 1917.
"We fully understand the strategic value and the critical role that APG brings to our national defense," Bennett said.
The post currently employs 22,000 military and civilian personnel. Development and testing of military hardware, which has been APG's mission since it was founded during World War I, is still carried on at the 72,000-acre installation; however, many current activities are in the areas of communications and cyber warfare, the result of the last round of base realignments between 2005 and 2011.
Jim Richardson, Harford County's economic development director, served as moderator for Monday's Community Call to Action, hosted by the Army Alliance and the Chesapeake Science and Security Corridor.
"We need you to understand the facts and how these facts may or may not impact Aberdeen Proving Ground," Richardson told the audience.
"You need to know this information so we can make the right response at the right time; this is a marathon, not a sprint," he added.
Four panel members provided more details on why the Army is considering APG for cutbacks as military officials work to meet cuts of up 142,000 Army troops and civilian employees by 2020, as mandated by federal budget constraints, the ending of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the potential for a second budget sequestration, or automatic cuts to federal agency budgets in 2016.
Panel members were Jill McClune, president of the Army Alliance; Eric McLauchlin, chairman of the Harford County Economic Development Advisory Board; retired Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Michael Hayes, who is managing director of the Office of Military and Federal Affairs in the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development; and Brian Simmons, a member of the Army Alliance's board of directors.
Simmons is also 1975 graduate of Aberdeen High School and a recently-retired 33-year veteran civilian employee of the Department of the Army.
"Even though I'm from Aberdeen, helping the Army would be my highest goal," he said after the forum.
McClune said the Army is currently going through a Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Assessment of nine military facilities throughout the U.S. Aberdeen Proving Ground and Ft. George G. Meade are two Maryland installations that could be affected by the review, she said.
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McClune and her fellow panel members stressed that the public must assist local advocates in showing the Army how a reduction in the workforce would have a negative environmental impact at APG.
"A consolidated, well thought out report, where they can get all the information in one place, could have the strongest benefit for us," McClune said.
Panel members and county officials encouraged audience members to sign a Declaration of Support on their way out.
Public comments on the Army assessment process can be made through Aug. 25. Visit armyalliance.org/ for more information.
The Army Alliance, headquartered in Belcamp, is a regional nonprofit organization that works to promote APG as a "key national defense asset and an economic driver," and strengthen the relationship between the post and local institutions and community groups, according to its website.
The Chesapeake Science and Security Corridor, headquartered in Harford County, is a regional partnership of jurisdictions in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania affected by APG, which works to oversee the implementation of the 2005-2011 BRAC process and expansion of the post during that period, according to the organization's website.
Both organizations and the county government, through Richardson and his staff, were instrumental in working with the Army during the 2005-11 BRAC round in which Aberdeen gained thousands of jobs. Those efforts have been recognized nationally.