War of Words at Fort Meade

December 08, 1993

Rough language and dirty stories have always been part of military culture, so it's not hard to believe the "concerned soldier" who claims that Col. Robert G. Morris III, the new commander at Fort George G. Meade, said some not-so-nice things during a few recent speeches. Many 25-year military veterans have vocabularies that don't exactly belong in drawing rooms.

The question is, how much should that matter? To Colonel Morris's many supporters, the brouhaha over his alleged profanity and lurid tales about Army nurses is another case of political correctness run amok. Clearly not everyone who heard his speeches -- one given to civilians at the Post theater in August, another at the Officers' Club in September -- was offended. As one civilian employee noted, "You hear that kind of talk on the street every day." From that standpoint, it seems ridiculous that the colonel is now the target of an investigation by the U.S. Army inspector general and that his reputation risks being destroyed.

We don't believe these incidents should ruin his career, either. There seems to have been no intent to offend, and the colonel has since apologized.

Nonetheless, the kind of language he is accused of using is not appropriate for a 1990s garrison commander speaking in public. The commander of Fort Meade does not deal solely -- or even mainly -- with men in uniform any more. He deals with thousands of civilian employees and thousands more community residents. Army posts are no longer their own little worlds. They are a part of the neighborhood, and their commanders are neighborhood leaders. They can't attend a public meeting and behave as though they are in a barracks.

Like him or not, Colonel Morris's predecessor, Col. Kent D. Menser, was a natural politician who adapted well to the new role of military commander/community liaison. Colonel Morris apparently is having a harder time adjusting. With so many problems to handle since coming to Fort Meade -- the post is in the midst of 17 investigations of fraud, waste and other wrongdoing -- he can be excused if he failed to weigh his words.

But he must do so from now on. The military has changed, Fort Meade has changed. Any post commander who hopes to be effective knows this and must adapt accordingly.

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