A changing of the guard at APG

Tradition marks transfer of authority at Army test center

August 20, 2006|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

Leadership of the largest operation at Aberdeen Proving Ground passed from one officer to another during a ceremony steeped in Army tradition and marked by music, a chaplain's prayers and a 13-gun salute.

When he took the furled flag of the Developmental Test Command in his grasp on Wednesday, Col. Frank D. "Del" Turner III also accepted the authority for a staff of civilians, contractors and soldiers tasked with sending America's military into battle with the most effective and reliable combat tools.

Gathered before a color guard, bearing the command's flags and insignia, officials looked out on a sun-drenched field filled with armored vehicles developed at the center, including a slat-armored tank outfitted with additional layers of protection and equipped to repel rocket-propelled grenades.

Turner, 50, took the reins of leadership from Brig. Gen. Michael L. Combest, who is retiring after 32 years of service.

Both officers, wearing camouflage fatigues, have spent most of their military careers in field artillery. In honor of their dedication, a ceremonial canister of the first round fired in the opening salute was given to Turner and one from the last round to Combest.

"There is nothing better than big, loud sounds for these two artillerymen," said Maj. Gen. James R. Myles, commander of the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command in Alexandria, Va.

Under Combest's command, the Aberdeen test center, the most active of seven across the nation, has provided "direct, powerful support to our soldiers in harm's way around the world," Myles said. The work is "essential to war fighters on the ground," he said.

Combest praised his staff for "caring by action, not emotion." While their primary mission is saving soldiers' lives, he reminded them that they are also engaged in the global war on terrorism.

"You are working for the people on I-95, at Wal-Mart and at BWI," he said. "You are working so 300 million Americans can live safely and securely every day. You are America's guardians."

Turner, the first to stand and applaud Combest's remarks, waited for the standing ovation to end before continuing in the same vein.

"If we get the right tools in the hands of our soldiers, they will win every time," Turner said. "Let's get after it and test for the best."

Turner, a 1977 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., recently arrived at the Harford County base from his previous posting in Atlanta, where he served as chief of the training division at the U.S. Army Forces Command.

He takes over the testing operation at a time when APG's significance as a key military installation is on the rise because of the federal base realignment process.

The test center operates on about 75,000 acres at the base, where it tests and retests everything from boots and protective vests to tanks and robotic systems to ensure that every piece of equipment is field-ready, said Developmental Test Command spokesman Michael Cast.

"The DTC tests everything the Army needs to fight an enemy and protect the troops," he said.

The Aberdeen test center and its counterparts across the United States are also researching technology that will enable Army strategists to simulate environments and weaponry on battlefields of the future, officials said.

"This is all about providing for our soldiers," Myles said.

Turner will lead a center that employs about 3,000 civilians and 4,000 contractors. His immediate military staff also includes about 70 soldiers.

"Our country is involved in a protracted war against a cowardly, insidious enemy," Turner said. "We have an important mission and role in this fight and in the future security of this nation."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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