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.

On Fort Meade, Sydney Johns is more than a boss

The center of the military public affairs world is located on Fort Meade, Md., in a building called Defense Media Activity.  As the destination of frequent tour groups, the facility must be kept spotless. It falls to a small cleaning crew and its street-wise leader to complete this often thankless task.

As the sun sets on another hot Maryland summer day, Sydney Johns is checking on the progress of his four-person team. The daytime employees have all gone home, but for the nighttime cleaning crew, work is just beginning. The former correctional officer has supervised this group for five years, working closely to see that they succeed, and not just on the job.

“My time at the correctional facility taught me a few things,” Johns said. “I was able to bring some of that with me, to teach these young men and women how to succeed.”

Johns and his employees are staffed through Goodwill Industries International, and many of them have disabilities. Because of the unique makeup of this group, he’s taken on the extra titles of mentor and role model. Johns has made time to teach one of his floor techs, 29-year-old Morgan Brandford, important life skills.

“He was teaching me how to save your money,” Brandford said. “How to be responsible, you know, with your bills. He’s a really good person.”

As the night wears on, Johns switches between roles as they go about cleaning the building. He laughs easily with his people and guides them firmly to keep things on track. A simple motto sums up what they’re doing here.

“Just do the very very best you possibly can,” Johns said. “That’s all. Just care about what you do.”

Navy public affairs students host 10th Anniversary celebration

One month in, and it’s already been a busy summer for the Navy MC students on Fort Meade. They’ve been churning out successful events like the Pasta Prom, but a major milestone gave them a chance to shine even brighter.

In 2006, the Mass Communication Specialist rating was born. This was a huge deal because it combined four jobs into one, meaning a former Photographer’s Mate now had to learn to write stories, for example. The youngest batch of MCs just had the honor of hosting the community’s  10-year anniversary after-party.

The barbecue was held at the student barracks, and saw influential storytellers arrive from around the world. It was a day for mingling old school with the new. Seaman Apprentice Ian Kinkead was a bit shell shocked to see such heavy hitters.

“When I was in boot camp, I thought I’d never see a master chief walking around,” he said. “I figured if I did, it would be because I was in serious trouble.”

He’s the president of the local chapter of CSADD, or Coalition of Sailors Against Destructive Decisions. His group is absolutely killing it this year. With assistance from the Petty Officers Association, they held various fundraisers to finance the BBQ.

If the students’ performance is a sign of what’s to come, the fleet should expect great things from their newest Mass Communication Specialists.

DMA softball team gets new head coach

On military bases around the world, the arrival of summer means the start of softball leagues. For the troops between deployments, it’s a welcome opportunity to relax and hang out with friends and family.

Petty Officer Andrew Gordon is attempting to lead the Defense Media Activity (DMA) team to the top. It’s his first time as a coach, but he has a strong multi-branch team behind him.

If he can pull it off, the bragging rights are significant.

The Fort Meade softball league consists of 17 teams, and it’s serious about its business. It’s organized by the department of Morale Welfare and Recreation and the competition is friendly-but-fierce.

Gordon said the trick is to balance the experienced players with the noobies, and still be competitive.

“We’re here to have fun, so everyone will get into the rotation, but it’s important that we all show up to practice to work on our skills.”

As a U.S. Sailor, Gordon has deployed several times. Being out to sea, away from his wife and two children, is tough. That’s why he’s making the most out of his time on land.

“These are the best times, right now. I’m here with my family, friends, and we won!”

We “won” might be an understatement.

Final score: DMA 12 – Black Knights 1

Fort Meade farmer’s market struggles with identity

United States service members have a huge array of food to choose from, but more choices don’t always mean better ones. To swing the influence away from fast food and over to fresh food, the Department of Defense (DoD) introduced the Healthy Base Initiative in 2013.

The Fort Meade farmer’s market was a direct result of that initiative. Looking around today, one would hardly recognize it from its first year. In 2013, it began as a collection of local farmers, selling all sorts of fruits and vegetables. Along side them were sellers peddling other homemade items, including bread, dressings and soaps.

Oh how times have changed.

Today, all but one produce stand is gone. The bread and dressings are nowhere to be seen, replaced by coffee, dessert and wine vendors. Nearby, several food trucks sell Greek, Cajun and other hot meals.

Sherri Council, the owner of Hope On Soap, has been here since the first year. She’s moved her booth inside the Fort Meade Pavilion, away from the wind.

There are only several vendors here, but incredibly there’s another soap seller directly across from her.

“I’m happy to come out and work here,” Council said with a smile. “I’m doing okay. In fact, I’m almost sold out today.”

Looking across the aisle at her competitor she adds: “But you have to wonder with so few vendors, why they’re duplicating product sellers like this.”

Perhaps there’s a large demand for homemade soap. There certainly doesn’t seem to be one for produce. While the food here is good and the vibe friendly, it may be time to change the name from “farmer’s market” to something more suitable.


Fort Meade troops rely on Freedom Inn

For young service members, separation from family during the holidays can be especially challenging. The award-winning Freedom Inn, located on Fort Meade, Md., prides itself on giving some comfort to those spending their first holidays away from loved ones.

This Memorial Day, junior enlisted service members from the Defense Information School filed into the Freedom Inn dining facility and grabbed dinner from a variety of stations. It was business as usual as young public affairs students relaxed and talked in small groups. On a day like this, however, it was about more than a meal.

The majority of the patrons here are under 25, and many are in their teens. A holiday like this may not hit as hard as Christmas, but it can still be tough. The old saying “An army marches on its stomach” has meaning here as well. It’s a simple equation: good food = good morale.

Wille Harmon is the Assistant Project Manager for Sun Quality Foods, and he paused from serving the students to talk about the pride he takes in being here year-round.

“This year, we’ve actually been here 366 days. We’re here to feed the students. We want to make sure they get a good quality meal. If you get that, you’ve got the motivation and the energy to keep going.”

The troops have a variety of fresh-made foods to choose from. The salad bar isn’t chosen as often as the grill, though. Many students grab French Fries then head to the burrito bar.

Harmon said the most popular food hasn’t changed over the years.

“Cheeseburgers, macaroni and cheese, a lot of cheese. I don’t know what it is about the young ones but they love cheese!”

The Freedom Inn will continue to work for these young troops, but there are other resources available to anyone who may be feeling down. The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to tackle the holidays alone. Reach out and help will be there.

Korean family cafe serves Fort Meade troops

In the Defense Media Activity building on Fort Meade, Md., a small café provides breakfast and lunch for the service members there. It’s run by a South Korean family who have worked through setbacks and used their generational strengths to find their niche.

Young & Michelle Cafe is owned by Young Chin Suh and her sister Whoo Jung Kim, who goes by Michelle. Young’s son Justin works there several days a week. His English is the strongest, so he works the register while the sisters cook. This is their first time working with the military, but Justin said it hasn’t been a big deal.

“The military aspect hasn’t really come up,” Justin said. “Everyone’s just a customer trying to get some food. “

Their menu is limited, as fire safety codes won’t allow a grill. They make due with a small conveyor oven, microwave and crockpot. For a while, the family churned out delicious bulgogi and homemade sweet potato pasta. Justin said it didn’t last long though.

We were using an electric griddle in the back, to cook the food and heat up some of the food. We got shut down because there was no ventilation in the kitchen. Now we’re not really sure if we can make Korean food anymore, so we’re thinking of different specials we can try out.

For now it’s mainly sandwiches. Still, a steady trickle of customers stops by, many bowing in the Korean custom. Justin appreciates the gesture, but said it’s really just second nature to him.

“I’ve been bowing as long as I can remember. I don’t even realize it’s happening.”

Young moved to the U.S. about 25 years ago. Like many immigrants, she sought a better life. She summed up her time here with a shy smile and few words.

“It’s good,” Young said. “Everything’s good.”

The presence of every military branch makes it very difficult for the family to figure out who’s who, but Justin said there’s one way to pick out the peons.

“A majority of the people would take the day off, but there are still a couple of people working. We’re guessing those are the lower ranks.”

Young & Michelle has only been in this building for about six months, so time will tell if they can find a way to express their South Korean culture through food, or make the business work as a basic deli.

Korean family cafe
FORT MEADE, Md. (May 13, 2016) The family-owned Young & Michelle Cafe. From front to back, Justin Suh, Young Chin Suh and Whoo Jung Kim, who uses the name Michelle. The South Korean family has been serving U.S. troops on Fort Meade, Md., for about six months. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Glenn Slaughter)