A military pageant in the old tradition


Last week, when the band played at Fort Meade, the Army invited everyone to come and listen.

Two years after the base became a closed post protected by armed guards, Army officials invited the public back inside, this time for the annual Twilight Tattoo, a musical chronicle of the Army's 300-year history that officials say is meant to be shared with the civilian public.

The success of Twilight Tattoo, which drew hundreds of visitors, underscores a challenge area military bases have grappled with since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks: how to maintain security while providing access to the public.

Other bases began relaxing restrictions for public events last year. But Fort Meade, home of the National Security Agency, waited until this month to experiment with open access.

"This setting is so perfect for this type of event," Installation Command Sgt. Maj. Earl Ware said as he surveyed the crowd and the pristine field. "If we could do it the way we really wanted to, we would open everything to the public, but we have to keep in mind the security of the installation."

Twilight Tattoo marked the second time this month that Fort Meade looked more like a park full of civilian picnickers than like a military base. The first time was for Meadefest, a Fourth of July celebration that once lasted all weekend. The Army scaled it back to one day this year, but thousands attended.

Because of the success of both programs, Fort Meade garrison commander Col. John Ives said he hopes to open more events to the public. He said he considers such outreach an obligation.

"We recognize that Fort Meade extends beyond the physical boundary, and that it's the community relations that makes Fort Meade what it is," Ives said.

Fort Meade began tightening its security measures in the summer of 2001. After the terrorist attacks, the base clamped down and now only allows civilians to enter with military escorts or Army permission.

Army officials wouldn't discuss specific security steps they took to prepare for Twilight Tattoo, but some changes were obvious. Roadblocks and barriers lined the route to the event.

Despite the obstacles, most were pleased with the event.

"It's a beautiful sight. I'm getting more patriotic by the minute," said 92-year-old Selwyn Gifford. "It should make us proud. Look at where we've come in 400 years."

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