Military base closures: Is Fort Meade safe?

MSgt Pedro Jimenez works at his editing station at Department of Defense News. Beneath BRAC are the people that hope to avoid it.  Photo by Glenn Slaughter.

In the military’s world of seemingly-endless acronyms, BRAC doesn’t really stand out, but to many it carries immense weight. That’s because military bases, and the people who work there, depend on surviving BRAC.

The Base Realignment and Closure Act was born in 1990, and has been shuttering military bases ever since. In the simplest terms, every few years, to save money, some facilities are forced to shut down and move their operations to other facilities. The last round was in 2005, and word is circulating that another one may be in the works.

Fort Meade was a winner in the 2005 BRAC decisions, and saw explosive growth as personnel from several bases were forced to move in. It meant massive construction and of course, a big boost to the local economy. Among the moves were the Defense Information Systems Agency and Cyber Command, the arrival of which, along with the presence of NSA, meant the base was now the hub of United States cyber warfare.


Military public affairs specialists meet at Defense Media Activity. Over 10,000 troops work on Fort Meade. Photo by Glenn Slaughter.

While Fort Meade might not be at the top of chopping block list, it must remain wary. The local government understands its value to the area as do community groups. But what, if anything, can the base do to secure its future? Growth is probably the best assurance. It cost more to shut down and consolidate the last round of bases than the yearly savings it produced. The more personnel Fort Meade employs, the more expensive it will be to relocate them all and construct new offices.

Along with growth must come modernization. The most antiquated facilities will find themselves at the top of the closing list. Fort Meade’s community continues to work with the base, as all parties understand the symbiotic nature of the relationship.

From the renovation of AAFES, the Army Air Force Exchange Services shopping center, to the construction of Maryland Live!, it’s a win-win for troops and civilians when Fort Meade continues as the economic powerhouse it currently is.

Fort Meade’s economic contribution is massive, but kids contribute too

Steve Tiller discusses Fort Meade’s economic power and how military families contribute. Interview by Glenn Slaughter.

Describing the economic impact of Fort Meade usually leads to terms like “construction contracts” and “tax revenue”. What’s not often heard in these conversations are the words “military child“, but children are a vital part of the local economy.

Steve Tiller is the president of the Fort Meade Alliance. It’s his group’s job to grow and maintain good relationships between the base and its surrounding communities. Tiller understands that fighting for the base’s survival is a marathon, that it’s about more than just the troops currently working there.

“A lot of military members who end up serving on Fort Meade end up retiring and staying in Central Maryland,” Tiller said. “When these people stay, often times their kids stay. We certainly want to take care of those, and educate those kids to the best of our ability.”

To forward this goal, Tiller is working with Anne Arundel county’s schools to educate teachers on the challenges that military children face. Service members change locations about every three years, and their kids have to make new friends every time. The Fort Meade Alliance understands that these kids could one day become Central Maryland residents, spending their paychecks and paying taxes.

“A lot of those kids are going to ultimately stay in our region, and so we want to make sure they are well-educated and well-supported,” Tiller said.

Tiller admits that their motivation to keep retired troops and their kids in the area is selfish.

“These people are smart,” he said. “They’re highly motivated. They’re well-trained. They’re mature. We want those types of people in our community…buying school supplies, buying school lunches, buying clothes, participating in local soccer leagues.”

Tiller’s commitment to working with local schools carries into high school and higher education as well. Project SCOPE is a FMA initiative designed to educate students of all ages about getting a job that requires a security clearance. The program informs about how bad decisions in a student’s past can affect the ability to obtain a clearance, and the lucrative job that comes with it.

The end result, according to Tiller, is to support military families and their kids, in the hopes that they stay local and become (or continue to be) part of Meade’s highly-skilled workforce.

The economic impact of Fort Meade on the surrounding communities is a complex topic. Tiller said he and his group will remain focused on military kids, and all other areas of the local economy, to ensure the long-term viability of the base.

Fort Meade: Understanding the economic powerhouse

As the largest base in the state of Maryland, the economic impact of Fort George G. Meade has always been formidable. As modern warfare shifts more and more to the digital battlefield, the base continues to grow.

The connections between Fort Meade and the local businesses form a complex economic web. While the details of individual troop spending habits aren’t tracked, an understanding of the overall economic impact of the base can be gained by talking to the experts.

Towson Economic Impact Study
Fort Meade’s economic output equals almost half of all other Md. bases combined. Infographic source:

Steven Tiller is president of the Fort Meade Alliance, and leads this influential group in maintaining good relationships between local businesses and Fort Meade. As the former chair of FMA’s Meade Business Connect committee, he has first-hand experience in creating business opportunities between the civilian and military communities.

Tiller understands that Fort Meade is becoming the front line in a new type of warfare. That means more troops will be added to the base, which means economic growth. The businesses in the surrounding communities are always interested in hiring the newly-retired, highly-trained service members that leave Fort Meade.

Towson Economic Impact Study list
As of 2012, the base employed almost 200,000 people, many of whom are civilians. Infographic source:

Retired Army General Dean Ertwine sits on the Maryland Military Installation Council at Maryland’s Department of Commerce. His job is to understand the impact that the development of Maryland military bases has on local communities, especially from tax revenue, and help maximize the economic benefits to those communities.

Any conversation about Fort Meade economics needs to include Maryland Live!, the huge casino up the street from base. For better or worse, the casino’s existence is tied to the money that flows from the troops into its machines. Robert Norton, as president of the casino, understands how important the base is to his business. He’s been around since the Maryland Live! was constructed and has big plans to expand.

Perhaps the most dubious of transactions are those between service members and car dealers. Many of these troops are living away from home for the first time, and are at risk of being taken advantage of when they buy their first vehicle. Many of the dealerships in the Fort Meade area offer military discounts. The managers of these facilities could shed light on how much the base contributes to their bottom line. It is their business to tap into the vast market of car buyers living on Fort Meade.

It would take years to explore every avenue of spending in this area. We can get closer to this goal by collecting statistics from the officials charged with studying and fostering the military/business relationship. There is also value in gathering information on the individual level. Where does Navy Seaman Jones spend money? What car dealership did Corporal Haller decide to buy from, and why? With patient research, a solid view of the economic impact of Fort Meade’s troops can be obtained.

Living on a military base: Is it worth it?

Petty Officer Andrew Gordon may look like a party animal, but his maximum excitement capacity is an hour of bowling. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Glenn Slaughter.

U.S. military troops living on a base enjoy the close proximity of necessities like healthcare, groceries and of course, where they work. But what, if anything, do they trade in order to enjoy this prime real estate?

Petty Officer Second Class Andrew Gordon lives on Fort Meade, Md., with his wife and two young children. They’ve got a nice place, about four miles from work. It sounds ideal, but it’s expensive, and the arrangement cuts down on the entertainment budget.

The family’s rented 3-bedroom townhouse came with a small backyard and is big enough, without being spacious. Most of Gordon’s Basic Allowance for Living (BAH) is sunk into rent, meaning his base pay must go towards the rest of the bills. His wife, Shanika, is at home raising the two children.

“We’re doing ok,” Gordon said. “The bottom line for us was she needed to be there for our kids. We’re making financial sacrifices so that our children are raised the way we want.”

The Gordon family relaxes after a base softball game. Photo by Ensign Michelle Tucker.

They could live outside the base and pay much less in rent, but that would mean a longer commute. But there’s another reason this is the place for the Gordon family.

“The sense of community is great,” Gordon said. “It’s nice living here because you trust everyone. Step outside the gates and you really don’t know who people are.”

As with many single-income families, the Gordon family has to think about what they spend money on. While there’s no expensive vacations on the horizon, the family makes time to dine out. Here’s where another downside comes into play. The areas immediately surrounding many bases are just plain garbage.

The food pickings are slim on Fort Meade. There’s a few more places to eat, but it’s almost all greasy and not-so-healthy. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Glenn Slaughter.

“There’s nothing for us on the main street outside the base,” said Gordon. “It’s almost all fast food it seems like. If there was a family-run diner out there they would clean up!”

A drive of about 10 miles takes them to their favorite local restaurant, so it’s not a total disaster. It’s a trip they only make a couple of times a month. Other than that, it’s cookouts with friends at the townhouse.

“We like the setup right now,” Gordon said. “I’d understand this wouldn’t be the ideal location for a single person looking to mix it up in town. For us, our kids’ safety is the most important, so we’re happy.”

While living on Fort Meade might not be for everyone, it’s working for the Gordon family. It’s all about priorities, and what kind of lifestyle the service member wants to live.