In about 24 months, Maj. Gen. Randy Taylor has created a connection between Aberdeen Proving Ground and the community outside the gate that hasn’t existed in years, Harford County leaders said.
“He’s been probably one of the best generals we’ve had to work with who immersed himself in the community,” said Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, who’s been in politics since the early 1990s.
“I tell everyone we’ve been blessed with the leadership at APG for a long time, but none more so than Gen. Taylor,” said Patrick Vincenti, president of the Harford County Council.
“He has invested such an effort into really working with the community and getting outside the gates,” said Angela Rose, executive director of the Harford County Chamber of Commerce. “In my experience, nothing like this has happened in recent history.”
Taylor, 56, who came to APG in April 2017, has been reassigned to the U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, where he will serve as chief of staff for the Strategic Command, one of 10 Defense Department “unified commands” that brings Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps assets, as well as civilian workers, together to deter nuclear and other forms of “strategic attack” against the U.S. and its allies.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling, knowing we’re going to go where the Army needs us far away from here, Omaha. It’s an important job, I really feel like it’s a very good fit. The Army needs me to do that. I go willingly,” Taylor, who was eligible to retire 12 years ago, said.
Taking Taylor’s place is Maj. Gen. Mitchell Kilgo, director, J-6, U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. A date for the change of command has not been announced, but he will be the guest speaker May 19 at the Gold Star Spouse’s Day afternoon tea.
As the commanding general of the post that employs more than 20,000 and of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command, Taylor and his husband, Lucas, have immersed themselves in the Harford County community like no commanding couple in recent years.
They attend fire banquets, local government meetings, festivals or a host of other events in the community.
Taylor and his husband don’t have to be as involved as they are, they do it because they want to and “it’s fun for us,” Taylor said.
“The civilian-military gap, it’s not something I was instructed to go out and fix, but something I’ve had my eye on for a while,” he said. “To me there’s a concern if you look way into the future several decades out, what could come of that.
“The more the community understands the Army — understands APG and what we do — the more we’ll be connected; the more we help close the gap between military and civilian.”
Importance to the community
At a recent Harford County Chamber of Commerce meeting, Taylor said he had a surprise announcement to make.
Someone shouted, “You’re staying?”
It’s an indication of how respected he is in the county.
“It’s been a huge blessing to have him here because so many people know him, know what’s happening on Aberdeen Proving Ground and are aware of that great asset we have in our county and what they’re doing, because of his leadership,” said Rose, of the chamber.
Taylor presented Rose with the Army Commander's Award for Public Service at the breakfast April 25.
His involvement sends a message to the business community that Aberdeen Proving Ground is not an isolated installation, she said.
“It really does take all of these different pieces to create the whole puzzle and make things work,” Rose said. “It’s been amazing to have those conversations and realize that yes, there’s so much happening behind the gate and it’s very secluded sometimes and isolated, but it’s really the people outside the gate that are making that happen and are making an impact in the lives of the employees working on base and going out to shop or eat or those kinds of things.
“The positive impact is it takes all the pieces of the community puzzle to progress and do good.”
Taylor knows it’s important to have a strong, viable military base and how important it is to the surrounding community, Vincenti said.
“He understands APG’s role in the economy of Harford County. He tries to bridge that gap and make everyone know they’re not just the Army, they’re part of the community,” Council President Vincenti said. “I don’t think anyone has done a better job than he has in that role.”
A decoy carver, Vincenti has had the Taylors to his home and shop. And Taylor has opened up APG to Vincenti and other community leaders.
“He let us on APG as areas we recognize as being historic and farming, waterfowl,” he said. “It’s very important to us, and he made it important to him as well.”
The relationships Taylor has created have helped in getting things done, Glassman said.
The county executive cited an access road project to the post, on which more progress has been made during Taylor’s tenure “than in 15 years,” he said.
When Taylor leaves next month, it will be a loss for the county, though many are hoping Taylor’s successor will continue what he has started.
“He turned a corner. It will be difficult for his replacement to move back,” Del. Andrew Cassilly said. “We formed new expectations about the relationship and we want that relationship to continue.”
Returning ‘for the people’
Taylor and his husband haven’t always been so active in the community where Taylor was assigned. They’ve been together for 22 years, but had to hide their relationship for most of it, though Lucas has moved with Taylor to each assignment.
“Until a few years ago, with the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, and us being recognized as full partners and treated like every other couple, not only were we forbidden from doing this, if we were discovered to be together we would have been kicked out as criminals,” Taylor said.
He would lose everything — his rank, his pension. So they waited, with patience and understanding, knowing that culturally the nation was changing, Taylor said.
The couple were married July 4, 2013 in St. Michaels with fireworks going off overhead.
“So we basically have a lot of stored energy,” he said. “We were on the sidelines watching everyone else have fun, and engage and be real and make friends. We were compartmentalized.”
Aberdeen Proving Ground was the Taylors’ first choice for their assignment after three years at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. – “living in 500 square feet,” Lucas said.
They both love the water, whether it be boating, scuba diving, paddle boarding or any other recreational opportunity — and APG gave them that, between the hundreds of miles of waterfront on the Aberdeen and Edgewood posts and the Chesapeake Bay.
They weren’t sure what to expect upon coming to Harford; how they would be received by the community or the workforce.
“From the moment we got here, we were so incredibly well-received. There’s something unique about this place, the people of this place, at this time,” Taylor said. “We were overwhelmed with just the warmth and sincere caring of the community for us an individuals and as a couple, and it created a pathway to connectivity between what I love, my profession of being a soldier, and the community.”
The Taylors clicked from the start with the community and that has fueled them to become more and more engaged.
“It’s our kind of recreation now, how we spend our free time, is community engagement. It’s not because we have to, we just love it. It energizes us,”Taylor said.
What began as professional relationships have become personal.
“They’ve become friends,” Lucas Taylor said. “The community has become friends.”
The Taylors say they’ll be back to Harford County “when the Army is done with us.”
“Our plan is to come back here permanently,” Randy Taylor said. “We came here, frankly, for the Bay, but we’re going to return for the people. That’s really it. We realize because things have just clicked so well here, the odds of that happening somewhere else, that quickly, it’s not lost on me. This is precious.”
“It would take us decades to recreate what we have here,” Lucas Taylor said.