Fort Meade's 'college look'

January 22, 1993

Transformation has come at an increasingly rapid speed at Fort George G. Meade.

This sprawling Army base, which not so long ago sat in the middle of an Anne Arundel County territory known primarily for truck farms, now finds itself in the center of one of the hottest growth zones in the new Washington-Baltimore consolidated metropolitan statistical area.

Fort Meade is lucky to have a commander like Col. Kent D. Menser at a time like this, if reporter Peter Hermann's recent Sun interview is any guide.

Rather than merely reacting to decrees from above, Colonel Menser is trying to anticipate future needs and prepare the base for profound changes now that the Cold War is over.

As traditional military functions are being phased out, he is talking about turning the base compound into a setting reminiscent of a college campus.

It would have an education component -- perhaps with the consolidated Defense Information School -- as well as an intelligence cluster that would be part of the super-secretive National Security Agency, which is headquartered nearby.

The various components would adjoin neighboring Odenton without fences traditionally associated with security installations.

"This is part of a new focus by the Army that recognizes there are no more Fort Apaches, isolated and surrounded by fences," Colonel Menser says.

Only time will tell whether a security-related compound without fences indeed is a practical option or merely a temporary extravaganza afforded by the end of Cold War enmities and the current absence of international terrorism.

But the fact that this option is being pursued speaks volumes about the changing military function of Fort Meade.

Instead of being a staging area and arsenal, it is becoming an appendix of the military's administrative machine in Washington, veritable suburban office park for the military.

Colonel Menser may not use this description but he acknowledges the underlying reality. "Right now, we are laying out proposed rights of way for mass transit at Fort Meade," he noted, so that new buildings would not be inadvertently built across such transportation pathways.

This kind of foresight augurs well for Fort Meade and its neighbors.

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