Nearly 500 people showed up to plead the case for maintaining the mission at Aberdeen Proving Ground to Army representatives Thursday night, as the service considers troop and civilian workforce cuts at posts across the country.
"I feel any further reduction in military or civilian personnel will have an adverse impact on our community," Havre de Grace Mayor Wayne Dougherty said.
He was one of several speakers at a three-hour "public listening session" on the post's future hosted by the Army at the Amoss Center at Harford Technical High School near Bel Air.
Army officials say the potential job cuts are necessary to meet the service's 2020 Force Structure Realignment goals and federal budget restrictions. Initial estimates suggest as many as 4,300 of APG's approximately 21,000 to 22,000 civilian and military positions could be cut as a result.
Dougherty, who noted his city is a 15-minute drive from the post and has benefited from residential growth and increased civic engagement driven in part by growth at APG, was among elected officials, education and business leaders from Cecil and Harford counties and post employees who expressed their views.
At the beginning of the listening session, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman asked members of the audience to stand up if they were associated with the post. Nearly everyone in the audience stood up.
Col. Karl Konzelman, of the Department of the Army's Force Management Directorate in the Pentagon, explained the reasons for the force reductions as the Army shrinks its active-duty component from 570,000 to 420,000 personnel.
Those reasons include the end of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and sequestration, or automatic budget cuts, imposed on federal agencies across the board by the 2011 Budget Control Act.
The Army reviewed the potential environmental and socioeconomic impacts of large force reductions at 30 posts, including APG, through a Programmatic Environmental Assessment in 2013 and a Supplemental PEA in 2014.
The 2014 supplemental assessment, or SEPA, which covered APG, concluded there would be "no significant" environmental impact estimated if force reductions are implemented at Aberdeen.
Despite that overall finding, the report also said socio-econmic impact would be "significant," to include lower household income, reduced community economic activity, fewer potential home sales, lost sales and income tax revenue and declines in school enrollment, but also the likelihood of reduced traffic and demand on infrastructure and public safety needs.
Konzelman, who will report the results of listening sessions around the country to top Army officials, said up to 1,000 soldiers and 3,272 civilians at Aberdeen Proving Ground could be affected.
He stressed several times that 4,300 job losses is just a potential figure; it is not certain APG will lose that many people.
"It's what we did our analysis on," Konzelman explained. "They potentially could lose up to that many, but we don't know what it is that they're going to lose."
Army officials plan to announce their decisions by late spring or summer, he said.
Aberdeen Proving Ground is the largest employer in Harford County and one of the largest employers in Maryland.
According to the Army's programmatic environmental assessment, which used 2013 baseline figures, the post's total working population of 21,412 consisted of 12,335 permanent party Army soldiers and civilians, with the remaining workforce employed by Army contractors. There was no breakout on how many of the 12,335 government employees were soldiers or civilians, but there were less than 700 soldiers and their families living on post, according to the report.
APG Garrison spokesperson Kelly Luster said Monday that total employment at APG ranges between 21,000 and 23,000. (He said he could not be more precise for security reasons.) The total includes approximately 1,300 military personnel assigned to the post and roughly 13,000 Department of the Army civilian employees. The remainder are contractor employees.
Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett noted APG will celebrate 100 years in 2017; the City of Aberdeen will also celebrate its 125th anniversary.
"We are partners with you and provide you with water and sewer, so anything that happens with Aberdeen Proving Ground is of great interest to our city," he said.
BRAC gains could temper
The post's population grew during the latest base national realignment, or BRAC, implementation from 2005 to 2011 as the Army moved a number of its electronics and communications activities from Fort Monmouth, N.J., to APG. According to the Army study, BRAC resulted in a net gain of 6,500 jobs for APG and construction of 18 new buildings encompassing 2.8 million square feet on post.
"There are things that happen here that cannot be done anywhere else," Maj. Gen. Bruce Crawford, APG's senior commander and commanding general of U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command based at APG, told the audience.
Crawford, along with Konzelman and Col. Gregory McClinton, the APG garrison commander, listened as audience members gave their views.
"I don't know how much Aberdeen is going to lose," Konzelman reiterated. "I don't know anywhere else until the senior leaders make their decisions."
Eric McLauchlin, chairman of Harford County's Economic Development Advisory Board, gave a presentation on the economic impact of the post.
He said APG is the third-largest economic engine in the state, based on the size of its workforce. He also noted employment is holding steady in Harford County, that local income tax revenues increased by $45 million from 2005 to 2014, and median household income increased by 23 percent during the same time.
He said $257 million federal dollars were "obligated" to Harford County businesses in 2014, and the number of defense contractors in Harford has grown from 28 pre-BRAC to 108 post-BRAC.
McLauchlin also noted the federal, state and local dollars that have been spent to improve highways leading to the post and the educational programs tied to APG such as STEM programming in the Cecil and Harford public schools and the partnership between Towson University and Harford Community College..
"It's a fiscally responsible thing to do for Aberdeen Proving Ground, for our region, to allow that momentum to continue," McLauchlin said.
Lisa Swoboda, of the Office of Military Affairs in the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, said about 40,000 jobs are connected to APG, including those who work on post, contract workers and those who work in tertiary sectors such as retail and health care that serve post employees.
Swoboda said APG had an economic impact of $1.8 billion for the state in 2003, and that impact grew to $4.3 billion in 2008, based on studies by her organization. She said state officials are working on an update to the studies, and the hope to release it by the spring.
Jim Evangelos, an electronics engineer with the APG-based Communications, Electronics, Research, Development, Engineering Command, or CERDEC, said he is also an adjunct faculty member at HCC and Cecil College, teaching physics and electrical engineering.
"I'm trying to bring out the young engineers to follow in my footsteps," he said.
Evangelos lives in Joppa and worked for CERDEC during the early 1990s when it was at Fort Monmouth.
Yvonne Emanuel, an employee of the Communications-Electronics Command, Office of the G8, or CECOM, said she was among the employees who moved from Fort Monmouth to APG during BRAC.
She initially commuted from New Jersey to Aberdeen each day but now lives in Maryland and returns home every other week, she said.
"[Army leaders] need to know that we are real people getting up at 3:30 in the morning to be at APG," Emanuel said.
She noted she and her fellow workers are "suspicious about the process" the Army is going through regarding force reductions.
"If you don't have trust, you have a very shaky workforce," she said.
Konzelman apologized to Emanuel for any erosion in trust. He said Army officials are "primarily concerned with people in uniform" regarding the cuts, and that "the civilian piece will probably take a little bit more to work out."
"We owe you nothing less than complete transparency," he said.