Harford, Cecil council members spend day touring Aberdeen Proving Ground

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Army Maj. Gen. Randy Taylor, who has served as senior commander of Aberdeen Proving Ground for nearly two years, and his staff bid farewell to outgoing members of the Harford and Cecil County councils and welcomed incoming members during what he called a “bittersweet” gathering at the post Friday morning.

“The coolest thing about serving in our military is the people you get to serve with,” Taylor said, emphasizing the partnerships APG officials have built with local leaders in recent years.

Taylor has been the senior commander of the Harford County Army post since April 2017. The post, founded in 1917, has more than 20,000 civilian and military workers, plus contractors, engaged in developing and testing military weapons and equipment, as well as defense from nuclear, chemical and biological attacks, medical research, cyber security and other missions.

It is the largest employer for Cecil and Harford counties, according to Rick Scavetta, community relations officer for APG.

Taylor and his aides hosted about 30 people for “Immersion Day” Friday, giving council members and their support staff an in-depth tour of the post, including the Edgewood Area to the south.

“We wanted to thank them for the partnership and the friendship,” Scavetta said after the tour.

He said Army leaders at the post and local government officials have built “a great partnership” and a “strong rapport” over the past two years.

The tour happened about a week and a half after the statewide Nov. 6 elections. County council members on the tour included those who are newly elected, incumbents returning to their seats, members defeated or those who have announced they are stepping down when their terms end later this year.

The day started with a morning visit to the Edgewood Area, with a tour of the installation and a discussion about how the area’s mission has grown since the days it was known as the Edgewood Arsenal.

The site, initially founded for development and testing of chemical weapons and the equipment needed to protect soldiers from them, has had its mission morph over the years to cover duties such as biological and chemical weapons defense, public health, even partnering with community initiatives on additive manufacturing using 3-D printing.

The tour group stopped at the Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense, or MRICD. They checked out the Wide Angle Virtual Environment, or WAVE, a simulator used for training soldiers and civilian first responders in handing incidents such as a chemical attack, according to Scavetta.

The group then visited the Maryland National Guard aviation unit based in Edgewood and piled into two UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. The visitors were flown over APG and landed on Plum Point on the north side of the post.

APG Police and fire department vehicles were parked near the open field as the helicopters came in. The first helo, in which the senior commander was among the passengers, landed first and the second aircraft hovered as all passengers got off and posed for photos.

The second bird then landed, the passengers disembarked and everyone posed for more photos.

‘The heart of APG’

The helicopters departed as the tour group got into a bus for the short drive to the Top of the Bay restaurant. The building, which overlooks the Chesapeake Bay, is also used for events such as conferences, weddings and other celebratory gatherings.

“Top of the Bay is the heart of APG,” Taylor said as the council members and their staffers sat down for lunch. “It’s a place where we just come together and celebrate good times.”

Michael Artus-Cooper, the head chef, described in detail the five-course meal created using ingredients sourced from the region, such as a salad with goat cheese from Philadelphia, “beautifully seared and seasoned” bay scallops and vanilla bean mousse for dessert.

Following lunch, Taylor and his staff presided over what Scavetta called a “hails and farewell” ceremony, in which they recognized the incoming and outgoing council members.

There are three new Harford County Council members, including District A representative Andre Johnson, who is succeeding Councilman Mike Perrone, District C representative Tony Giangiordano, succeeding Councilman Jim McMahan, and District E representative Robert Wagner, succeeding Councilman Patrick Vincenti.

Vincenti was elected County Council president; Perrone did not seek re-election to council after losing the Republican primary race to incumbent County Executive Barry Glassman — Glassman was re-elected this month. McMahan, who has served three terms, did not seek re-election after losing a GOP primary bid for state delegate.

The current council president — and former District E representative — Richard Slutzky, is retiring after 16 years of service. The new council will be sworn in in early December.

Johnson, an Army veteran, who served in Iraq, noted he was born on APG at Kirk Army Hospital, now called the Kirk Army Health Clinic.

“I’m just happy to be here, to get to follow in Cap’n Jim’s seat,” Giangiordano said. “Hopefully, I’ll do the great job he did.”

Wagner, a former District E council representative and council president, said Harford leaders have “always enjoyed a very good relationship” with APG, “and I see no reason why, under your direction, that would cease,” he told Taylor.

Taylor then presented, with a brief introduction of each person by Scavetta, honors to the five departing Cecil and Harford council members. Each member received a medal and certificate representing the commander’s award for public service, the highest award an Army commander can present for civilian service, as well as a polished and engraved spent artillery shell.

“I am moved by the selfless service of the people in this room,” Taylor said.

Awards were presented to McMahan, Perrone and Slutzky; Cecil County Council Vice President Dan Schneckenburger and Council President Joyce Bowlsbey. Schneckenburger lost a re-election bid in the June Republican primary, and Bowlsbey did not seek re-election after serving since 2013.

Bowlsbey and Schneckenburger thanked Taylor for welcoming Cecil County “as an equal partner.” Schneckenburger said the council has been working over the past four years to build a stronger relationship with APG leaders.

“It’s been a pleasure, and I certainly hope our new council continues the relationship and moves forward,” he said.

Bowlsbey said she was involved in efforts, during the 2005-2011 BRAC period, to attract workers moving from Ft. Monmouth, N.J. to APG to Cecil County.

“The BRAC move was certainly something that was successful, and I’m excited about it because it’s helped both our counties,” she said.

Perrone, who grew up in Joppatowne, said APG “has always been a pretty strong thread and fiber of my life.” He said his father served in the Coast Guard for 20 years, and he recalled shopping with his mother at the post exchange and commissary in the Edgewood Area. His first job was as a bagger at the Edgewood commissary.

“To end a council term on a note like this is really special for me,” he said.

McMahan, an Army veteran, said APG has become “part of the family” of Harford County communities under the current senior leadership.

“I know Army posts, but this has become a community, and it’s a community because of the senior leadership here at Aberdeen Proving Ground,” he said.

Slutzky, a Marine Corps veteran and Aberdeen resident, said he has been part of the Aberdeen community for the past 47 years. He spent 31 years as a teacher and coach at Aberdeen High School and then 16 years on the council — 12 years representing Aberdeen, Churchville and greater Bel Air in District E and the last four as president.

“General Taylor has been as active and as responsible for promoting the proving ground and making relationships with the governments of Cecil County and Harford County, more than anyone I can ever remember,” he said.

Building a rapport

After the awards ceremony, the group visited the Army Aberdeen Test Center to check out a Stryker armored vehicle and watch its cannon being fired. They also met with civilian workers who test small arms such as the M4 rifle and M240 machine gun, plus, the council members were allowed to try firing the weapons, Scavetta said.

“These are the weapons that our soldiers are using when they’re deployed,” Scavetta said.

The officials then met with youth participants in the Maryland Freestate ChalleNGe Academy, a National Guard program for at-risk teens that is headquartered in Edgewood. The participants traveled to APG North to meet the council members and put on a drum line demonstration, according to Scavetta.

Scavetta noted the importance of developing relationships with new council members, as well as staffers, so people on post and in county government form a rapport for various initiatives, or in case of an emergency.

“It’s great when leadership knows other leadership, so we can work together efficiently and take action,” he said.

The tour also helped new council members learn more about what happens “behind the fence,” so they can “help tell our story to concerned community members who may not know or be familiar with what goes on at APG,” Scavetta said.

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