Commander to leave in routine change

June 23, 1995|By Shirley Leung | Shirley Leung,Sun Staff Writer

Col. Robert G. Morris III, who came to Fort Meade two years ago amid a controversial plan to put a boot camp on post, will leave quietly next month as part of a routine change of command, base officials confirmed yesterday.

In August, he will take command of NATO's situation center in Belgium, where he will oversee about 200 people.

Fort Meade's new commander will be Col. David H. Toops, 46, a manager at the Defense Nuclear Agency in Alexandria, Va. The change of command ceremony is tentatively set for July 27.

Colonel Morris, 47, became garrison commander in July 1993, replacing Col. Kent D. Menser, who was forced to retire as part of the Army's downsizing. The garrison commander is, in effect, the mayor of Fort Meade, overseeing a $100 million budget and about 2,000 military and civilian employees responsible for the daily upkeep of the base.

The son of a military doctor and grandson of an Army chaplain, Colonel Morris was picked by Lt. Gen. James H. Johnson to "straighten out" Fort Meade, which had been the target of investigations involving allegations of fraud, waste, racism and environmental abuses.

During Operation Desert Storm, Colonel Morris was a battalion commander, leading the 2nd Battalion, 18th Field Artillery, into Iraq. He is a decorated Army Ranger, with citations that include the Bronze Star and the Army Commendation Medal with oak-leaf cluster.

Colonel Morris got off to a rocky start at Fort Meade, in part because his style was so different from his predecessor's. Where Colonel Menser sold himself as a civic leader in West County, Colonel Morris put his emphasis on the post and its soldiers.

Immediately, however, Colonel Morris was forced to referee a fight between base neighbors and state officials over a proposal to move the prison system boot camp from Jessup to the base. He supported the move, siding with the state and infuriating residents, but the state later dropped the plan.

Five months later, the 1st Army investigated allegations that Colonel Morris used profanity and told lurid stories about Army nurses during briefings. The results of the investigation were never made public.

In April 1994, the Pentagon extended Colonel Morris' tour of duty after he asked for extra time to develop and implement programs.

Fort Meade spokesman Julius Simms said yesterday that Colonel Morris is not leaving because of any fallout from the investigation.

"He is not leaving prematurely," said Mr. Simms, who added that an average tour for a command post is two years.

Community leaders said that despite his public troubles, Colonel Morris took care of Fort Meade. He maintained the base, expanded the commissary and started a $24 million project to renovate base housing.

"Sometimes you get a commander in, and he tries to insist on efficiency, and sometimes people already there aren't happy with it," said Alfred Shehab, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who heads the Fort Meade Coordinating Council.

Even some of those who disagreed with Colonel Morris said they respected him.

"His job was to tear [Fort Meade] down and build it up again," said Zoe Draughon, head of community relations for Seven Oaks Homeowners Association.

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