While American military bases are being cut and eliminated, business is booming at the Maryland National Guard's Camp Fretterd -- once the site of a reform school for girls.
"We're not closing," said Lt. Gen. James F. Fretterd, Maryland's adjutant general, on a recent tour of the 640-acre complex in northwestern Baltimore County that carries his name. "We're just starting."
The camp is emerging as the centrally located jewel in Maryland's military crown. From a Guard community outreach program helping at-risk youths to plans for a new armory and state emergency management center, activities are expanding about as fast as buildings can be restored or constructed.
The Woodensburg property was given to the National Guard by then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer in 1989 -- with General Fretterd fighting off opposition of his senior staff officers and defeating bids by several other state agencies and the county.
Guard facilities had been strained since reactivation of the 29th Division in 1985 brought an influx of personnel. "We went to the state looking for surplus property," he said, "and Montrose was on the list."
General Fretterd even took his message to neighbors, whose initial skepticism has given way to strong support.
Vicky Almond, president of the Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Glyndon Coordinating Council, said, "At first I was really hesitant. We're not always trusting and we thought, 'Oh, the Army.' But they keep us informed of everything; there are no secrets."
About half the property is densely wooded, but abandoned campus areas had become heavily overgrown. Now they are close-trimmed to military standards, the result of work by teams of pre-release prisoners and Air Guard units from as far away as Washington state and Maine.
Among the military engineer projects at Fretterd have been Adirondack shelters along woodland trails, baseball and soccer fields for youngsters, a quarter-mile running track and a bandstand beside a parade ground.
Units perform field exercises, but in accord with a promise to the neighbors there is no shooting. Target practice is with laser-beam guns in the old milking barn.
Although most of the buildings were structurally sound, guardsmen faced major renovation work. When the Guard arrived at Montrose, most of the 40 fieldstone and brick buildings had deteriorated and many had been vandalized, said Col. H Steven Blum, commander of the 29th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade. Now all but three are well into restoration.
Construction of a new armory is to begin next spring and be completed by summer 1997. The basement will house the emergency management center, now crammed into an old state police bomb shelter in Pikesville, General Fretterd said.
The new armory will bring together units that would play key roles in an emergency, including military police, maintenance and transportation, a 200-bed mobile field hospital and the Guard's first Medevac helicopter company.
The new unit, the 104th Air-Ambulance Company with 12 helicopters, will be activated in October and along with its military duties will complement the state police emergency helicopter fleet.
The federal government has put in about $10 million, mostly for training and materials, in the transformation of Montrose, Colonel Blum said.
As the work at Camp Fretterd has made buildings usable, programs have been introduced. The Maryland Military Academy has an officer candidate school, a noncommissioned officer academy and a military occupation specialty school to train enlisted personnel. The Management/Leadership School trains executives of other state agencies as well as Guard officers. "We train the trainers here," General Fretterd said.
The schools have made the camp a moneymaker, he said. Previously, Maryland sent its guardsmen to train in other states. Now, he said, out-of-state people come to Camp Fretterd -- and the federal government pays.