Pentagon's Blunder at Fort Meade ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY


Pentagon officials certainly have a strange way of thanking people who do a good job.

First, they hand Col. Kent D. Menser a $125,000 award for Fort George G. Meade for making it the most improved Army base in the continental United States. Then, they tell him to hit the road.

Makes wonderful sense, doesn't it? "You've done a great job, Colonel Menser. Love that idea of yours to turn Fort Meade into a federal office park/college campus/research center. But you can't stay to finish any of it. Hasta la vista, baby."

Colonel Menser, a 27-year Army veteran, was asked to retire several months ago as part of a nationwide military reduction. But he asked for one more year at the military base in Odenton to complete the projects he started. Last week, the Pentagon said no. Not even for a year.

It's an incredibly stupid decision. If the Army thinks what Colonel Menser accomplished in two years was outstanding enough to warrant a national award, you'd think it would see the benefits of letting him finish the job. Instead, his work will be turned over to a new commander, Col. Robert G. Morris III, on June 30.

Odenton can count itself lucky if Colonel Morris shows the same commitment to the community. Not many Fort Meade commanders have reached out to schools and neighborhoods the way Colonel Menser has. Under his direction, military leaders have served as mentors for local students and donated school materials. He brought in inner city teen-agers from Baltimore City and Prince George's County and paid them to help fix up the post.

Most important, his "Meade 2000" program began transforming Fort Meade into an attractive part of the Odenton community instead of the fenced-in, dismal-looking neighbor it has long been. If his vision is ever realized, the old World War II-era barracks and dilapidated buildings will be replaced by a new federal office park and military education center.

At last week's ceremony, one official praised Colonel Menser for tackling the challenges of a changing, post-Cold War military. "He's the one we use to show others how to do things," she said.

Too bad the Pentagon won't let him finish doing things at Fort Meade.

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