Fort Meade to cel­e­brate 100 years of mil­i­tary in­no­va­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY EMMA AY­ERS

FORT MEADE, MARY­LAND | The site of the mil­i­tary’s — and the na­tion’s — best-kept se­crets is now 100 years old.

The hub of U.S. cy­ber­se­cu­rity, Fort Ge­orge G. Meade in Anne Arun­del County, Mary­land, re­mains the game-changer in de­fense that it has been since its in­cep­tion.

To cel­e­brate, Fort Meade is host­ing a pub­lic gala Satur­day that will in­clude a vis­ual walk-through of its his­tory.

“For 100 years, from sad­dles to cy­berspace, Fort Meade has been the home to Dough­boys and Hello Girls of World War One, Pat­ton and Eisen­hower as they es­tab­lished our first tank corps, the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency, and now: US CY­BER Com­mand,” Army Col. Tom Rickard, the fort’s gar­ri­son com­man­der, said in a state­ment to The Wash­ing­ton Times. “Through the years, Fort Meade has al­ways been a key in­stal­la­tion for our na­tional de­fense.”

It makes sense, then, that the

5,000-acre fort was named for the Union gen­eral who helped win the Bat­tle of Get­tys­burg, which turned the tide of the Civil War.

Nes­tled along In­ter­state 295, the Army base has changed the tide of the Mary­land job mar­ket. It is the state’s No. 1 em­ployer, with 55,568 em­ploy­ees — nearly twice the num­ber of the Pen­tagon. Some 138,000 peo­ple en­ter the base daily, and the aver­age house­hold in­come for the area is more than $84,000.

But the gen­eral pub­lic, by and large, is un­aware of these num­bers as the base is squarely tucked away from the busy­ness of Wash­ing­ton and Bal­ti­more.

Anne Arun­del County res­i­dents are even as­tounded by the base’s quiet im­pact, as well as the sheer num­ber of peo­ple mov­ing to the sur­round­ing area.

“I’m amazed when I look at all the hous­ing and in­fra­struc­ture that’s here now. It’s cer­tainly be­low the radar, be­cause you can’t just see into the base,” said fort his­to­rian Jim Speraw, a mu­seum spe­cial­ist at the U.S. Army Cen­ter of Mil­i­tary His­tory and a res­i­dent of the base for 40 years.

“This has be­come the cy­ber­center for mil­i­tary, ab­so­lutely,” said Sherry Kuiper, the base’s me­dia re­la­tions spe­cial­ist. “Most of the branches of the mil­i­tary have the Cy­ber­com head­quar­ters in this area. The cy ber head­quar­ters for the Marines is build­ing on post as we speak.”

Cy­ber, how­ever, was not the main fo­cus of the base un­til 1952, when the elec­tronic eaves­drop­ping Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency set up shop in the fort.

Up to that point, the fort was sim­ply adding new in­no­va­tion to the mil­i­tary, tech­no­log­i­cally and so­cially.

World War I brought with it 400,000 troops who passed through Fort Meade, as well as the “Hello Girls” — some of Amer­ica’s first bilin­gual switch­board op­er­a­tors for the U.S. Sig­nal Corps who helped forge the path for women in ser­vice.

Racial bar­ri­ers also were bro­ken at Meade dur­ing the Great War.

“We had here one of the first black di­vi­sions — the 92nd Di­vi­sion,” said Mr. Speraw. “Un­for­tu­nately, be­cause of the times, the idea of 22,000 armed black men in one place made peo­ple too un­com­fort­able. So the army had to train them in sev­eral places, but the 368th In­fantry and 351st Field Ar­tillery were trained here be­fore they went to France.”

Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, many of the first fe­males al­lowed into mil­i­tary ranks, the Women’s Army Corps, even­tu­ally were trained at the base. In ad­di­tion, Fort Meade con­tin­ued to set prece­dent by open­ing a Spe­cial Ser­vices train­ing school where sol­diers could learn the art of en­ter­tain­ment.

Icons like Jack Benny, Mar­lene Di­et­rich and Mickey Rooney made their way through the school, but Mr. Speraw said the first day drove away clar­inetist Glenn Miller.

“He came through Meade. But the army sat him down and told him, ‘We’re gonna teach you how to play mu­sic, son,’ ” the his­to­rian said.

Miller, al­ready pro­fi­cient, quickly trans­ferred to the Army Air Corps.

Gen­er­als Dwight D. Eisen­hower and Ge­orge S. Pat­ton also es­tab­lished the first tank corps at Meade.

Be­cause of its prime lo­ca­tion, mem­bers of Congress would come to the fort and watch as per­son­nel rolled out new tanks or ma­chine guns that had never been seen be­fore.

“The work they did here was ab­so­lutely what our mil­i­tary tank units built off of,” said Ms. Kuiper, the base spokes­woman.

Even the idea for Eisen­hower’s cre­ation of the U.S. in­ter­state high­way sys­tem ger­mi­nated from his cross-coun­try trip with the base’s trucks, pro­vid­ing the na­tion a smarter, faster way to travel.

To­day, Fort Meade is home to the U.S. Cy­ber Com­mand, the NSA, the De­fense Courier Ser­vice and the De­fense In­for­ma­tion Sys­tems Agency.

“Cy­ber, of course, is not go­ing any­where. Who’s not go­ing to have a smart­phone or a com­puter?” Ms. Kuiper said. “This is the fu­ture.”

But the de­tails, of course, are closely guarded se­crets.

“It’s hard for us to talk about what we do to­day, ob­vi­ously. We can’t re­ally know,” said Ms. Kuiper. “We do know that Fort Meade was al­ways pro­gres­sive, and that’s sim­ply go­ing to con­tinue.”

Satur­day’s gala is open to the pub­lic, and tickets can be found on­line. The event will be­gin at 6:30 p.m. in Club Meade. Ruth’s Chris Steak House will cater, and the U.S. Field Band will per­form.

All pro­ceeds from the event will go to the Fort Meade com­mu­nity and to­ward sup­port of mil­i­tary per­son­nel and their fam­i­lies.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency (NSA) is ware­housed on the cam­pus of Fort Meade, which has also played a part in the early his­tory of women and blacks in the mil­i­tary.

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