Fort's community role stressed by new chief Frketic says Army base no longer self-sufficient

October 14, 1997|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

Col. John D. Frketic trots to the podium in the banquet room of the Fort Meade Officers Club and launches into a briefing on the status and future of the installation, complete with overhead transparencies.

The "Fort Apache mentality" of self-sufficient military bases must be abandoned, the new Fort Meade garrison commander tells his audience. The base must instead work with the surrounding community, sharing things like waste-water treatment facilities.

Frketic (pronounced FREDIK) even forecasts base changes that will improve service at the commissary.

"You know how they smile and greet you at Wal-Mart? They ought to smile and greet you at the commissary, too," he tells the Fort Meade Retired Officers Wives Club.

An officer for 22 years, Frketic took command in July of a base that is essentially a landlord for Department of Defense and government tenants such as the National Security Agency. He replaced Col. David H. Toops, who left Fort Meade after two years to take an assignment in the Pentagon.

Eleven weeks into his new job, Frketic is sounding the same theme as previous commanders, right down to the Fort Apache analogy: Fort Meade wants to be more open and work more closely with civilian communities as a neighbor and part of the regional economy.

"We are not the enemy," he said over a buffet lunch at the officers club dining room. "For so long, military installations were self-sufficient. That is not the modern way of doing business. The modern way is that we are as open and active members of the community as [Northrop Grumman] is."

About 25,800 civilians and 9,000 military personnel on base have a combined annual payroll of $1.4 billion, according to Fort Meade figures.

The difference between Frketic and his predecessors is that he is taking over as changes at the fort are becoming physically obvious. A laboratory and office building for the Environmental Protection Agency is near completion yards from Route 175 in a swath of land the Army has earmarked for more office buildings. The area fronts the North Odenton business strip, no longer the Boomtown of the fort's days as a bustling mobilization center for young troops.

Fort Meade still bustles, though the tank and artillery training are long gone. With the EPA, Defense Information School and other tenants arriving, Fort Meade by 2000 will have more than 1,000 more civilian and military employees than it did in 1992. And while 120 civilian jobs have been cut in Fort Meade departments such as public works over the past year, Frketic said the base's budget will cover the remaining employees for at least two years.

Most capital improvements on the base were planned before Frketic arrived, but he does plan to have a $30,000 running track built around McGlachlin Field at the corner of Mapes Road and Cooper Avenue for soldiers who now jog there on a dirt path in the grass.

Area leaders say Frketic has made a good first impression.

"He seems to have hit the ground running," said Jay Winer, an Odenton developer. "He was more open and outgoing than I expected him to be for just coming into the post. I think that bodes well because the commanders typically don't seem to have a lot of time" to accomplish their mission in two-year assignments at the base."

Frketic, 48, said his style is to be focused from his first day on a job to the last. His schedule packed with back-to-back meetings and engagements well into November leaves little breathing room.

Frketic said he tries to take an hour a day for reading, writing, answering e-mail -- or just plain thinking; 1 1/2 hours for running or pumping iron; and an hour to go out and talk with workers on the base.

He lives on base in a two-story brick house overlooking Burba Lake with his wife of 25 years, Frances, and daughters Jennifer, 16, and Stephanie, 7. Son Louis attends the University of Florida where he is in ROTC, but he wants to be accepted at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

The son of a Naval officer, Frketic enlisted in the Army in 1967, hungry to go to Vietnam.

"There was an intense desire of a young man to participate, as foolish as that sounds now," said Frketic, who served 19 months in Vietnam.

"It is the most horrible form of existence known to mankind," he said of ground-level combat.

Frketic left the Army for the University of Florida in 1971, then in 1975 with a bachelor's degree in economics and a master's degree in foreign affairs, he was commissioned a military intelligence officer. His career has taken him to Germany, Alaska, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Australia. His last assignment was as deputy chief of staff for intelligence in the Forces Command in Atlanta, where he served through March 1997.

Pub Date: 10/14/97

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