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Then & Now: Fort Meade

Jan 30, 2015 12:40PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Mark R. Smith

Anyone who visits Fort George G. Meade today has to wonder what Gen. Meade might think about its current landscape and the post’s crucial role in the Corridor, and worldwide.

What was founded as a training camp for soldiers in World War I has become a large and expanding employer and an irreplaceable presence in the regional marketplace: a bustling epicenter of intellect, intelligence and military preparedness, with many signs of progress circling its perimeter.

Scheduled to close in the ’60s, with the end of the Cold War about a quarter century ago, Fort Meade reached another crossroads. But then came 9/11 and, with it, a new and very different war.

Today, just three years shy of its 100th anniversary, the post is a cybersecurity hotbed that serves as one of Maryland’s key economic development generators.

April 6, 1917

That was the date when the United States declared war on the Central Powers and entered World War I. Shortly thereafter, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which authorized 16 cantonment areas around the country to house and train recruits for war. One such site, located between Baltimore and Washington, was dubbed Camp Meade, in honor of Battle of Gettysburg hero George Gordon Meade.

The Army soon began acquiring land for the new post, procuring dozens of small farms around the area known as Annapolis Junction, under eminent domain. By the end of that year, the post represented the third largest city in Maryland.
A Signal Corps school was also established at Camp Meade, distinguished by a contingent of women who were among the first to serve as uniformed members of the Army. Known as “The Hello Girls,” the corps kept in communication with the battlefields of France.

With victory and armistice in November 1918, 96,000 men returned to Camp Meade to be processed out of service, though the U.S. sought to preserve its new fighting force; among the World War I cantonment areas that were kept in service was Camp Meade.

In 1919, the War Department established the Tank Corps at Camp Meade, and assuming command of one of the brigades was Lt. Col. George Patton; joining him was (one-time Laurel resident) Major Dwight Eisenhower, and the two men forged a relationship that would bear fruit on the battlefields of Europe.

What’s In a Name?

On March 2, 1928, Camp Meade became a permanent installation. It was almost named Fort Leonard Wood (to honor a recently deceased Army chief of staff), since there was already was a Fort Meade in South Dakota.
However, the Pennsylvania delegation in Congress attached a rider to the Defense Appropriations Bill for 1929, changing the post’s name to Fort George G. Meade, with the longer name designed to differentiate the two. The bill passed and the installation had its slightly different new name.

Buildings rose on post as more troops were inducted and trained. Eventually, America watched as war broke out once again in Europe in 1939; by 1941, trainees from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the District of Columbia began arriving for processing at Fort Meade, with more than 200 units and approximately 3.5 million men using its ranges and facilities between 1942 and 1946, and post military strength peaking at 70,000 in March 1945. Altogether, upwards of 4 million men passed through, or were stationed at, Fort Meade during World War II.

Training activities continued at the installation during the following decades. Then, in 1966, troops were mobilized for war and shipped directly to combat in Vietnam from the post.
“When you look at it historically, it was a training base and home to national combat units after World War I, when they moved the tanks operations there, all the way up to armored Cavalry regiments being here through the ’70s,” says Ken McCreedy, the post’s garrison commander from 2005-08.

The Agency

Perhaps the most momentous event in Fort Meade’s history was little noted when it happened in 1952: the establishment of operations by the newly-created National Security Agency (NSA) on post, the site selected mainly because it was located outside the projected nuclear blast radius of attacks on the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon.

The three-year construction of the NSA headquarters was completed in 1957; in 1966, the agency, an increasingly important player in the Cold War intelligence battle, added a nine-story annex. Today, construction is underway on additional facilities to house the U.S. Cyber Command.
Bert Rice, acting director of the post’s department of public works, has seen the installation evolve for almost four decades. He arrived in 1976, when the post was home to medical and military police battalions, and a headquarters battalion of almost 300 soldiers; it also housed First Army headquarters, with about 350 more soldiers.

“It was almost all military at the time,” Rice says, “but we have more people here now than we did then.”

Today, the post employs many civilians who work for the Department of the Army. “We get about 57,000 cars through the gates every day,” he says.

The Future Is Now

That number makes sense, especially when discussing the construction of the U.S. Cyber Command headquarters, which will require up to 500,000 additional square feet of office space on Fort Meade’s sprawling 5,415-acre campus. It is being built on the part of the former golf course property that remains after the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), which included construction of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) building on the site, as well as the Defense Media Activity and the Defense Adjudication Consolidation, which both rose toward the post’s east side. For perspective, BRAC development required 9 holes of the golf course; NSA is using the other 27.

The rise of the U.S. Cyber Command will further contribute to the “gradual expansion” on the installation, with “timelines and costs up in the air, due to the federal fiscal environment,” says Mary Doyle, a post spokesperson.

But that addition is proof that, while 10,000 employees were added on post (and numerous defense contractors off) during the past three years, many as a result of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) decision, to an installation that was already the work address of more than 48,000 civilian employees, Fort Meade is still growing.
What’s gone on since is part of what the post’s leaders call “installation transformation.” It includes the $37 million renovation to the Army Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) Post Exchange (PX), completed in August that includes a 20 percent expansion of floor space for a total of 167,000 square feet at the PX, the post’s general department store. The renovation at the adjacent commissary is slated to begin in a couple of years.

Another new retail option on post, also from AAFES, is the new Express, which opened in April. The $7 million project includes a second gas station and the second Arby’s on post.

More to Come

New residential enhancements are also in the works at Fort Meade. Corvias Military Living (formerly Picerne Military Housing) recently opened the first phase of a $72 million, 816-unit garden apartment community for unaccompanied junior personnel. It includes such amenities as weightlifting and fitness rooms, a cybercafé with charging stations and Internet access, and an outdoor pool.

The first set of apartments, plus the community center, opened at the end of June. The rest of the project is slated for completion in December 2016. This new housing is an offshoot of the construction of single-family homes spearheaded by Picerne many years ago.

More recently, focus has turned toward the need for temporary accommodations, which will be served by a 243-room Candlewood Suites that is rising near McGlachlin Parade Field. Slated to open this fall, it will mainly serve transient military personnel and represents the final step toward privatization of all post accommodations.

More signs of growth are apparent outside the fort’s fence line, where the expansion of Route 175 continues. With stretches between the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Rockenbach Road, then from Rockenbach to the entrance of Meade High School nearly complete, work is now underway to upgrade the segment between Reece Road and Mapes Road.

All told, after decades that have included preparations for war, evolution, uncertainty, and growth, Fort Meade is poised to enter its 100th year as a national leader in cyber security and information technology.

“I think, in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, there were doubts about all sectors of the military and what relevance they had, and NSA had to redefine itself,” McCreedy says. “Now, the post has become a new center for this sphere of national security in the cyberdomain. It’s markedly redefining this region in regards to all aspects of cyber, research, operations, and R&D.”

McCreedy feels it’s time for Meade and the post to get their due.

“Meade is like the fort that bears his name. He gets overlooked, even though he arguably won the most important battle in the Civil War and led its largest army,” he says. “And the post gets overlooked in military circles, given its importance in our national military history, as well as national security.”