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Morris ends tenure at Fort Meade as Toops takes over


Col. Robert G. Morris III passed the Fort Meade flag yesterday, a year earlier than planned, to a new leader who said he wanted to be a friend to the community.

In an hourlong ceremony of music and speeches, Col. David H. Toops took the teal and gold fringed flag, symbolizing the change of command, and told about 100 people gathered on McGlachlin Field that "to have friends you must be a friend."

"I pledge to be a friend to the Fort Meade community," he said.

In December, Colonel Morris, 47, was granted a one-year extension to his two-year tour. But in June he announced he was leaving because he believed he had accomplished his goals at the post in Odenton.

The colonel has been assigned to Brussels, Belgium, where he will become chief of NATO's situation center, managing about 200 people.

Colonel Toops, 46, most recently was a manager at the Defense Nuclear Agency in Alexandria, Va. He and his wife, Laura, have two children, Kimberly and Erik. He has served 23 years in the Army, including three tours in Germany. He is a decorated parachutist, who had received the Meritorious Service Medal with five oak leaf clusters and the Army Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters.

In his speech, Colonel Morris said that "no previous assignment I have held in my Army career leaves me with as much satisfaction as this one."

During his tenure, he expanded the commissary and secured a liquor license for the store, started a $24 million renovation of base housing and created a civic board that would help address Fort Meade's environmental problems.

The son of a military doctor and grandson of an Army chaplain, Colonel Morris was picked by Lt. Gen. James H. Johnson to "straighten out" Fort Meade, which had been the target of investigations involving allegations of fraud, waste, racism and environmental abuses.

He came to Fort Meade with 23 years of service in the Army, including four tours in Germany and one in the Persian Gulf, where he led the 2nd Battalion, 18th Field Artillery into Iraq. He is a decorated Army Ranger, with citations including the Bronze Star and the Army Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster.

But five months into his tenure the 1st Army inspector general's office investigated charges that Colonel Morris berated civilian employees with obscenity-laced diatribes and told lurid stories about Army nurses during briefings.

Lt. Gen. John P. Otjen, the 1st Army commander, said yesterday he could not release the results of the investigation but insisted that "appropriate action has been taken."

Colonel Morris also said he would not comment on the case.

Community leaders, however, said they saw a different side of Colonel Morris. "I found his approach to the community to be open. He was receptive and he listened," said Jim Golden, a retired Air Force colonel and aide to Councilman Bert L. Rice, whose district includes Fort Meade. "We hope for the exact relationship with Colonel Toops."

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