Colonel Menser hands over command at Fort Meade Successor pledges to continue policies WEST COUNTY -- Crofton * Odenton * Fort Meade * Gambrills

July 01, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

Col. Kent D. Menser handed over command of Fort Meade yesterday to a new leader who promised to continue improvements started by his predecessor and to develop a strong relationship with surrounding civilian communities.

In an hourlong ceremony of music and speeches, Col. Robert G. Morris III accepted the Fort Meade flag, symbolizing the change of command, and said he is "dedicated to the program already under way."

Colonel Menser, 49, was forced to retire because of the shrinking size of the military. Army officials denied his request to stay another year.

Faced with a changing role for the military and the loss of more than half the base because of realignment, Colonel Menser embarked on an aggressive campaign to transform the post from a training ground for soldiers to a federal office park.

In 1995, three Pentagon schools that train military public affairs officers will consolidate on the base with 1,000 students and teachers. Fort Meade also is the preferred site for a $40 million Environmental Protection Agency laboratory.

The colonel's outreach to schools and his efforts to clean up the base won the installation a $125,000 award as the most improved base in the continental United States.

In his brief speech yesterday, Colonel Morris promised to continue Colonel Menser's efforts.

The former senior Army officer with the New Jersey National Guard is not unfamiliar with Fort Meade. His grandfather was stationed there in 1919, and his father was there in the months leading up to World War II. "So, in a special way, my family has come home," he said.

Colonel Morris, 45, and his wife, Patricia, have four children. He has served with the 101st Airborne Division, has served four tours in Germany and is described by the Army as a "proven combat leader."

"He understands the vision of Fort Meade," said Lt. Gen. James H. Johnson Jr., the commanding general of the 1st Army and Fort Meade. "He knows how to work with people, and there is no doubt in my mind that he will inspire this community."

The always upbeat Colonel Menser told the several hundred people who attended the ceremony that he had had fun in his 27-year military career and was looking forward to something else.

"Stay dry-eyed and fired up," he told his wife, Arlene, from the podium. Then, he reminded Colonel Morris how important it is to work with the neighbors. "We can't do it without them, because they are part of it," he said.

But the retiring colonel is leaving behind a public relations blunder -- a proposed prison boot camp that the state wants to move onto the base from Jessup.

Community leaders who praised Colonel Menser for working with them on various projects and for keeping them informed about base activities attacked him after learning the details of the boot camp proposal just three weeks before the colonel was to make a decision.

"This proposal could badly damage the progress we have made in working together," Norman G. Myers, president of the Greater Odenton Improvement Association, told the colonel at a meeting after stories ran in several newspapers.

Last week, Colonel Menser announced that he would not make a recommendation on the boot camp but would open the subject up for more community input and let Colonel Morris decide. Colonel Morris was not available for comment after yesterday's ceremony.

Colonel Menser has said that he wants to stay in the area but that his plans depend on his finding a job. Several local politicians have mentioned his name for political office.

One is County Council Chairman David G. Boschert, a former Marine whose district includes Fort Meade.

"I think County Council would not be out of order," Mr. Boschert said, adding that Colonel Menser's work with area schools also qualifies him for some kind of school job.

Colonel Menser said he has ruled out an elected position, at least for the immediate future.

"I want to stay in city management, economic development or a public service type of thing," he said in an interview several weeks ago. "That is my focus right now -- not public office.

As Colonel Menser greeted guests at the end of the ceremony, General Johnson told him to "chill out."

But the colonel answered: "I'm ready -- I love to work."

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