Troops Called To Mideast Create Boom Town At Fort Meade

December 12, 1990|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff writer

Fort George G. Meade, an administrative Army post during the past two decades, is seeing new life as a major deployment center for reserve troops headed to the Persian Gulf.

But the expansive troop call-up, involving the housing and feeding of soldiers, is stretching resources at the Odenton Army reservation to the breaking point.

"We have to take care of the regular administrative duties, and when you add to that Desert Shield, we are taxed to the limit," said spokesman Don McClow. "We have no spare time. We are absolutely busy to the nth degree."

Even Boomtown, the Route 175 strip made famous in the 1940s when thousands of troops went through Fort Meade on their way to World War II battlefields, is seeing a resurgence.

Business owners said the call-up has been a mixed blessing. Sometimes, when the fort is full of troops, business is good. Other times, the cash registers are quiet when more troops are leaving than coming.

Nearly 1,500 troops from 20 units have gone through Fort Meade on their way to the Middle East since the Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.

Last weekend, half of a 630-member Military Police Company, (which would run prisoner of war camps in combat), left from Andrews Air Force Base. The remainder could leave any day.

McClow said that battalion -- from Fort Meade, Baltimore, Salisbury, Ohio and Connecticut -- was the largest single-unit reserve call-up in the country, and it didn't help logistics problems at the army base.

Feeding the troops proved difficult. McClow said the mess hall can handle about 800 people per meal in two 400-person shifts. Other troops had to eat at the Installation Detention Facility, Kimbrough Army Hospital and at a makeshift barracks on the fort.

Sleeping also is a problem. Last week, the fort housed 1,500 soldiers.

Bed space exists, but some of the barracks haven't been used since the Vietnam War and need cleaning and fixing.

"The buildings are ready to go, but you still have to do little things when you want people to sleep in them," McClow said.

And McClow said, the budget doesn't allow for much improvement. "We have to suck up and do what we can," he said. "It's been a challenge."

The reserve units stay at Fort Meade a week to a month, depending on training needed. Earlier support units, which keep track of supplies, stayed a few days.

The Military Police Company needed longer to train for their missions.

"Every unit is different," McClow said. "It depends on the amount of additional training they need. It depends on the mission. Some are ready to go when they come through."

McClow said the base doesn't get much warning when a unit will arrive.

He said he doesn't expect another one the size of last week's, but he's waiting for two additional units from West Virginia and the Baltimore-Washington area, with 83 reservists, to report this week.

That may be good news to the area businesses.

"When they send the soldiers out, the morale goes down and you don't see them around for a few days," said Melvin Grason, manager of the Roy Rogers near the main entrance to Fort Meade.

He said he has seen a sharp decrease in business since most of the troops shipped out this past weekend. "It all depends on what's going on over there," he said.

The manager of nearby Dunkin' Donuts, however, said business has been off ever since the call-up. "We get big coffee orders occasionally, but that used to happen anyway," said Bob Donohue, acting manager and former owner of the store.

At the Red Carpet Inn, money just keeps pouring in. Unfortunately, the 100-room motel in Boomtown is renovating -- only 30 rooms are open. When a company like the 630-unit Military Police comes through the fort, "if we had a thousand rooms, I could have filled them," said Alice Gordan, general manager.

Gordon said many military families check in with only a few hours to spend with their loved ones.

"It's good business, but it's sad," she said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.