Harford's Armed Forces Week won't have live fire, other popular demonstrations

A number of activities are planned in Harford County in observance of Armed Forces Week May 12 to 16; however, missing this year will be the live fire and other popular demonstrations at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Budget constraints are being blamed for scratching parts of the traditional celebrations on the post, which many residents and visitors have looked forward to each spring.

As a result, there won't be an open house giving demonstrations of modern warfare tactics, helicopter flyovers or displays of the latest weaponry for the general public to view, nor will there be live fire demonstrations that were presented the past two years on the Saturdays that ended the week.

"Team APG will not feature a live fire demonstration during this year's Armed Forces Week," APG Garrison spokesperson Adriane Foss said Wednesday, citing budget considerations.

"We know it is a popular event throughout the community but given the realities of sequestration and extremely constrained budgets, we must make the most responsible decisions and be good stewards of available funding," Foss wrote in an email. "We are, however, hosting a variety of other events that will pay tribute to the men and women who serve the United States' armed forces."

Harford County Economic Development Director Jim Richardson said he is aware of the cutback in this year's annual celebration locally. While regrettable, Richardson said, the change is also understandable.

"They have concerns about staffing and everything else," he said of the post command. "Most of the events they are having are open to the public, but they couldn't do everything in the past."

The Armed Forces Week events begin Monday, May 12, with an opening day ceremony and golf tournament at Ruggles Golf Course at APG. Registration and a continental breakfast and warm-up are 7 to 8 a.m., followed by a welcome and opening ceremony, 8 to 8:30 a.m., led by Maj. Gen. Peter Utley, commander of the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command.

There will also be command tours of APG organizations, the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command and the Army Research Laboratory. These tours, however, are not open to the public.

On Wednesday, May 14, riders take off on APG Bike to Work Day festivities starting at 6:30 a.m. with an 11.5-mile ride around the installation. Organization and vendor displays and demonstrations all focused on health and wellness will be available and refreshments, raffle drawings and the Smack Down Trophy will be awarded after the ride.

The annual salute to APG's military continues Thursday, May 15, with the Harford County Chamber of Commerce Military Appreciation Luncheon at the Richlin Ballroom in Abingdon. Visit http://web.harfordchamber.org/events/Military-Luncheon-171/details for more information.

Military Appreciation Week draws down with an Armed Forces Day 5K Run/2-Mile Walk starting 6:30 a.m. Friday, May 16, from Hoyle Gym in APG South (Edgewood).

For more information about the week's activities, call 410-278-1150.

"The [federal] budget cuts are a real stress across the board," Richardson said, "but at least we have a bigger base than we did before."

Armed Forces Day observances at APG were a fixture in Harford County beginning in the early 1950s and routinely drew crowds of 20,000 to 30,000 in the 1950s and early 1960s, according to local newspaper accounts and Army publications. The live fire demonstrations that were a staple of the celebrations ended in 1991, though at first other events were added in their place.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, security was tightened at all the nation's military installations, including APG, and public access was greatly restricted. The post was not opened to the public on Armed Forces Day in the succeeding years.

The situation changed in 2009, when APG resumed hosting a public Armed Forces celebration, organizers explaining at the time that the event would help build stronger ties with the community while showcasing some of the latest Army innovations.

In 2012, the live fire demonstrations from tanks and other weaponry resumed for the first time in 21 years and were held again last May. Both times, the Army made 1,500 spectator tickets available on post that were distributed within hours..

Wednesday open house events the past two years also were well-attended and featured tanks firing in the field, simulated combat demonstrations and all kinds of military ordnance and hardware the visitors could see up close.

Richardson said the logistics involved in managing a large crowd of visitors and maintaining security was no doubt very costly.

"On weekends when you had to have extra security, I'm sure the cost of overtime and comp time figured into their calculations," he said.

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