Brig. Gen. William E. King IV, commander of the 20th CBRNE Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, will step down as commander later this year, long before his unit moves into its new $73 million headquarters.
But King ensured he will remain part of the facility Wednesday, as he placed his signature on the final piece of structural steel to be installed.
"This is an important day, and a day that we will remember in history, for this command particularly," King said during a "topping of the steel ceremony" in front of Building 5016, one of two buildings the command will occupy starting in early 2019.
King, who came to APG in 2015, was among the first participants in the ceremony who signed the white beam, which will be installed within the support structure that makes up the front entrance. People in attendance included soldiers and civilian workers assigned to APG, representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers, civilian construction officials and local dignitaries.
"It will forever mark your presence and your involvement in this significant day," he said.
The 20th CBRNE, or Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives, Command was formed in 2004 so one unit could coordinate responses to weapons of mass destruction threats around the world.
The command developed out of "lessons learned" during the beginning of the Iraq War, according to King.
U.S. troops invaded Iraq in 2003 to topple the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein, who U.S. officials suspected had chemical or biological weapons that could be used by terrorists to attack America.
Army officials determined a centralized command was needed to monitor and respond to potential WMD threats, and it needed to be placed at APG in the midst of the research and development, science and technology and acquisition activities happening at the Harford County post, according to King.
The command not only handles chemical, biological and radiological threats, but it deals with countering proliferation of nuclear weapons, explosive ordnance disposal in the U.S. and abroad, and it has an expeditionary medical lab to deal with infectious disease threats, such as the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak.
The 20th CBRNE coordinates with U.S. military combat commands around the world and civilian federal agencies, according to King.
"Leaders before me realized the necessity of not only creating the 20th CBRNE command, but also providing this command with a headquarters worthy of its soldiers, its civilians and its critical missions dedicated to support not only the Army but out interagency partners and our international partners in the execution of the worldwide mission that this command has," King told the audience.
The command's APG facilities are spread over a cluster of temporary buildings in the post's Edgewood Area. The new facilities, which are a combination of renovated and new structures, will occupy two buildings with a combined 186,000 square feet on the post's main area in Aberdeen.
The beam that was signed Wednesday will be installed in a new portion of Building 5016, according to Clem Gaines, a public affairs officer for the command.
The second building will be Building 5046, according to an event program.
The temporary buildings in Edgewood were meant to be in place for about four years, but they have been the command's home for 13 years, King noted in an interview after the ceremony.
"We've made the best with what we have, and it's actually a first-class facility given the resources we have available," he said.
King said he has about 600 soldiers affiliated with his command who are deployed around the U.S., the Middle East, South Korea and Europe.
The new CBRNE headquarters will be staffed by about 270 soldiers and more than 100 civilian workers and contractors, according to King.
King, a 30-year veteran of the Army, has been involved in the six-year planning process, even before he took command of the 20th CBRNE in 2015.
A new CBRNE commander will be installed during a change-of-command ceremony in July. King, who will be retiring from the Army following that ceremony, asked those in attendance to save a seat for him during opening ceremonies for the new facility.
It is so much more important for me to add my signature to the steel today," King said.
The Baltimore District of the Army Corps of Engineers is the construction agent for the project; Whiting Turner is the general contractor, according to Gaines.
Col. Edward Chamberlayne, the district engineer for the Corps' Baltimore District, also spoke during the ceremony.
"We've been after this effort and this headquarters for a very long time," Chamberlayne said.
He noted the Corps of Engineers and the 20th CBRNE have "a very active working relationship in operations."
He stressed both agencies, and other entities, can accomplish their missions when working together.
"The Corps couldn't do it on their own; the 20th couldn't do it on their own," he said.