For all the technological marvels that have been developed by scientists at Aberdeen Proving Ground -- everything from the M1 tank to NyQuil cold medicine -- what they really need to concoct is a crystal ball. Maybe that would shed light on the future of the mammoth military testing installation in Harford County as the American armed forces shrink in the post-Cold War.
To be sure, no one envisages the closure of the 72,000-acre proving ground. It is a virtual small city with its own fire company, movie theater and fast food joints -- only it happens to explode tanks and has live shells buried here and there, too. At least for the foreseeable future, APG-watchers believe the facility's workforce will remain around 14,000 employees, including nearly civilians. With weapons production down, there is less demand for operational testing, but still a need to test and develop new defense technologies.
If Harford countians in 1917 weren't exactly thrilled that the Army had chosen some of the county's best vegetable farms and duck hunting flats for its new proving ground, later generations of local leaders came to see Aberdeen as the butter for their bread. Even as the county has grown and diversified, the installation remains Harford's largest employer: One of every 13 civilian workers in the county works there. It draws employees from as far as New Jersey.