Saying the Army faces some troubling days ahead, the new commander of the 1st U.S. Army based at Fort Meade told troops yesterday he is committed to maintaining a top-notch fighting force.

"I know there will be more challenges in the near future," said Lt. Gen. James H. Johnson Jr., a former troop commander in the 82nd Airborne Division. "Quite honestly, I am looking forward to the challenges we will face."

Johnson took over as commanding general during a ceremony yesterday that also marked the retirement of the former commander, Lt. Gen. James E. Thompson.

"The fact is that we are facing a rapid changing world," Johnson said. "The challenges to 1st Army mirror what's in the total arena. . . . I am fully confident that this army will (be ready) when called up."

The 1st U.S. Army is made up of more than 215,000 active army and National Guard units in 13 Northeastern statesand Washington. More than 20,000 1st Army troops were activated for Operation Desert Storm.

Yesterday's ceremony included troops from the many divisions at Fort Meade, including the 82nd Medical Battalion and the 519th Military Police Battalion.

The troops presented the wivesof both generals flowers and handed Thompson the American flagthat flew over the fort during his tour of duty.

Johnson graduated from West Point in 1960, served in Germany and spent two tours of duty in Vietnam. More recently, he was a troop commander for the 82nd Airborne, leading troops in Operation Just Cause in Panama and Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East. He and his wife, Edna, have fourchildren.

He takes over for Thompson, who is retiring after a 34-year military career. He assumed command of the 1st Army in 1987 and became the installation commander of Fort Meade in 1988.

"(Thompson) stands up for what's right regardless of the consequences," said Gen. Edwin H. Burba Jr., commander-in-chief of Forces Command. "He hasmade the army a better outfit and the 1st Army a magnificent organization."

Thompson, who also was the commandant of the U.S. Army WarCollege at Carlisle Barracks, Pa., said he was honored to serve at Fort Meade. "If I have a retirement like I had a career and a marriage, my retirement life will be great.

"I know you will give (Johnson) the same support you gave me," he told the troops. "He's going to need it. It's not that he's not a competent person, but the Army is embarking on some troubling times."

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