Going BRAC and forth

Army recruits Md. residents to fill jobs at the N.J. and Va. agencies scheduled to move here by 2011

June 04, 2008|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun reporter

Bryan Fischer says he has enjoyed his job as a recruiter for Villa Julie College, but it was time for a change. He wants a chance, he says, to serve his country without actually putting on a military uniform.

So next week, Fischer, 26, embarks on a new career at Fort Monmouth, N.J., where he'll become a civilian defense worker writing field manuals for the Army. He'll miss family and friends in Baltimore, but he knows he'll be back within three years - when the New Jersey base closes and shifts the bulk of its work force to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County.

Fischer is one of hundreds of new employees being recruited from Maryland and adjacent states by Army agencies now based in New Jersey and Virginia, which are scheduled to move here by 2011 as part of the nationwide military base shake-up known as BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure).

With surveys showing that many of those agencies' employees are likely to quit or retire rather than move, Army officials from Fort Monmouth and from the Defense Information Systems Agency in Arlington say they are seeking at least 550 hires this year alone. Their goal: finding potentially thousands of replacements for current employees reluctant to relocate or make long commutes when the agencies transfer their operations to Aberdeen and to Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County.

"We're looking for folks with experience as well as entry-level," said Mark Fuhring, deputy director of human resources for the Communications-Electronics command, headquartered at Fort Monmouth. CECOM, as the office is known, provides logistical support for soldiers in the field, developing and supplying night vision and communications gear, among other things.

Recruiters for Fort Monmouth and the Defense Information Systems Agency, or DISA, the Pentagon's information-technology agency, have visited dozens of colleges and universities in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania seeking to attract graduating students into "internships," trainee positions in which they'll spend two or three years learning various skills.

The agencies also are trying to woo more experienced workers by staging a job fair today at Harford Community College. Representatives of 10 different organizations at Fort Monmouth and Aberdeen Proving Ground will be there, hoping to sign up engineers, computer scientists and contract specialists. But no recent college grads who show up will be turned away, recruiters say.

About 5,100 civilian defense jobs in electronic warfare at Monmouth, Fort Belvoir, Va., and Redstone Arsenal, Ala., are slated to be moved to Aberdeen by 2011. But only 30 percent of the workers surveyed last year indicated that they're willing to transfer. The majority of the workers will be at or near retirement age about the time of the move, according to Fuhring.

To fill the expected vacancies, CECOM is planning to hire 2,000 new employees by the time it moves to Aberdeen, Fuhring said. The command hopes to land as many as 250 experienced prospects, who with relatively little training could quickly become supervisors or senior specialists to replace departing veteran employees. But many of the hires are likely to be new or recent college grads, with starting salaries ranging from $30,000 to $60,000, along with generous federal government fringe benefits.

Fuhring said his recruiters visited 83 colleges and universities in the region. Teresa Manganaro, one of the recruiters, said they collected nearly 3,000 resumes during the spring semester and have landed 250 interns, with another 200 or so needed.

As a 2003 college grad working at Villa Julie in Baltimore County, Bryan Fischer said he first heard about Monmouth jobs from a newspaper article. Then one of his friends was hired there last year and told him there were plenty of other openings.

Fischer said he was inspired in part by the example of his late grandfather, a Japanese-American who was confined in an internment camp at the beginning of World War II but volunteered nonetheless to do military intelligence work.

"I know it sounds corny, but I was a Boy Scout. I believe in giving back to your community," he said.

In New Jersey, Fischer said, he plans to share an apartment off-base with his friend from Baltimore. He's looking forward to living just a few minutes from the beach. But, he says, he's hanging on to his Orioles season tickets.

DISA has been actively recruiting in Maryland, though it doesn't expect as much turnover when it moves 4,300 positions to Fort Meade from various offices in Northern Virginia. A survey this spring found that 40 percent of its workers plan to stay with their jobs, according to Jack Penkoske, DISA's personnel director.

Nearly a quarter of the work force already lives in Maryland, he pointed out, and Virginia-based workers unwilling to move their families can take advantage of a liberal telecommuting policy, recently expanded to allow employees to work from home or from remote computer centers up to three days a week.

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