Fort Meade's new garrison commander last night outlined his vision for the post, saying he will keep many of the community outreach programs that made his predecessor popular with neighbors but stressing that the post and its soldiers are his top priorities.
In his first public speech to county and community leaders, Army Col. Robert G. Morris III said his planned improvements at the post will translate into economic success for businesses outside the gates.
"I've got to take care of the post," he said. "It is my first priority. It's what I get paid to do. But concurrent with that, we want to be good neighbors."
The colonel was warmly received by the 50 people who went to the Officers' Club for dinner and the speech. Colonel Morris, who took command of Fort Meade in July, is leading a post in transition from a training facility for soldiers to a "federal office park," a term championed by the former garrison commander, Col. Kent D. Menser, who had a 100-year plan for the facility.
But the new commander prefers to look only a decade into the future.
"What do we really want Fort Meade to be in 10 years?" Colonel Morris asked during a slide-show presentation. "I think 10 years is all we can stand because things are changing so fast."
His emphasis on the installation already is drawing some criticism from the local business community, which views his desire to build a liquor store on the post as harmful.
Colonel Morris said he has asked for community input on the proposed liquor store proposal, and will continue to seek such advice for all new tenants on the post.
That will be welcomed by community leaders, who said they were not consulted on a proposal several months ago to move the state prison boot camp from Jessup to the post. A decision on that proposal is pending in the Pentagon.
Last night the colonel stressed that with military cutbacks, he must find new ways to earn money to fix up housing areas, provide day care for the children of soldiers and civilian employees and "make the post beautiful.
"I've got to find new and creative ways of running this place," Colonel Morris said. "People around here are not going to stand for the standard to drop."
He promised to continue work on the "transition zone," an area of the installation bordering the Route 175 business corridor that a county committee is working to improve.
And Colonel Morris said the 11 new tenants on post, including the $40 million U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lab and the consolidated defense information school, which will bring in 600 students and 300 instructors, can only help area businesses.
"Essentially, we are going to have a huge influx of people," Colonel Morris said. "There are going to be a lot of people shopping in your stores and buying your homes."