Job lost to cuts at Fort Meade


Richard H. Howell has spent the last six years following Pentagon orders to strip Fort Meade of 9,000 acres.

And now, with his work almost done, he finds himself downsized out of a job.

When the 1st U.S. Army's mission ends June 30, so will Mr. Howell's role as the man who makes sure base closure and realignment gets done with the community's help.

This week Department of Defense officials told Mr. Howell, 56, he would not be replaced after the 1st Army is inactivated and consolidated at Fort Gillem, Ga.

"Their job is to really work themselves out of a job," explained Major Marty Hauser, spokesman for the Defense Department's Base Transition Office. "He's a good guy. He's done a lot of good things. It's a decision that gets made when a mission is ending."

Fort Meade officials said they have decided not to hire another base transition coordinator to finish Mr. Howell's last major project, turning Tipton Army Airfield into a civilian airport. Post spokesman Julius Simms said the work will be taken up by Ted Hartman, Fort Meade's Base Closure and Realignment Commission officer.

"I've accepted now that's how the cookie crumbles," said Mr. Howell, a retired Army colonel. "It would take an extraordinary action to turn this around. I really believe I made a difference. It's too bad I can't continue to support Fort Meade."

Mr. Howell's last day is June 24. Two days later, he will start as executive director of the Baltimore Federal Executive Board, which coordinates activities among federal agencies.

Civic leaders say Mr. Howell will be remembered for breaking the silence between Fort Meade and the surrounding community.

"Fort Meade sat there. We either drove around it or through it -- very seldom would [Fort Meade] come out and talk to us," said Ray Smallwood, president of the Maryland City Civic Association. "Colonel Howell was that one person who took the concerns of the community. He helped give us directions. He helped channel feedback."

In 1988, when the Pentagon recommended closing part of the 13,000-acre post, Mr. Howell helped organize the Fort Meade Coordinating Council to give the community a say in what should be done.

The 32-member council met about twice a month for two years. The council recommended what ultimately happened: 8,100 acres of Fort Meade would be given to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and Tipton Army Airfield would be handed over for Anne Arundel and Howard counties as a civilian airport.

"I was extremely disappointed when I heard he was leaving his job," said Alfred Shehab, chairman of the coordinating council. "He kept open a fantastic line of communication. We're going to miss him."

Perhaps what made Mr. Howell so successful was that he had experience in base closure and realignment.

During the round of military reductions in the mid-1970s, he helped close or convert several California bases, including Fort MacArthur, Hamilton Air Force Base and the Los Alamitos Naval Air Station. He said he never thought the federal government would cut the military as much as it has today.

"What really brought it to the head was the reunification of Germany and the elimination of the Cold War," said Mr. Howell, who began his Army career at age 18 when he enlisted in the National Guard Army Reserve.

He'll spend his last days at Fort Meade working on the Tipton project, confident that he has done his job.

"You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore," he said.

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