ANNAPOLIS, Md. — As the Army works on plans to downsize over the next five years, Fort George G. Meade is getting ready to add 4,000 servicemembers.
Col. Brian P. Foley, garrison commander, said the preliminary estimate makes Fort Meade one of a handful of Army installations that will grow instead of contract by the end of the decade.
The NSA, DISA and Cyber Command are driving the growth as Army cuts its force by 70,000 soldiers and as the defense budget shrinks by more than $75 billion.
“(The Army is) going to downsize as a whole but some forts still need more resources to support their growth and the key national security mission that is growing and will continue to grow,” Foley said.
Growth at Fort Meade continues to be driven by information, intelligence and cyber defense work. Its largest commands include the National Security Agency, the Defense Information Systems Agency, Defense Media Activity, the Defense Courier Service and the U.S. Cyber Command.
“Those organizations, in particular Cybercom, the NSA and DISA, are literally keeping the lights on in our nation 24 hours a day,” Foley said. “Every utility network in our country is now run by computer networks. Just about all of them are connected to the internet, making every single one of them vulnerable to attack by entities from kids in basements to nation states that are less than friendly to the United States.
“They’re under attack thousands of times a day. If it were not for the people that work on Fort Meade, we probably would have lost our power grid. This installation is vital to our national defense.”
The projected growth at Fort Meade makes it important to convince Pentagon officials that the post’s continued growth in a time of overall downsizing is worth reallocating resources, Foley said.
It is the third largest Army post by population, but personnel there include members of the Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard and civilians.
Out of the approximately 49,000 people that work at Fort Meade, only 13,000 are uniformed service members. Of those, 4,000 are Army soldiers, Foley said.
“It’s really a huge Department of Defense installation, more than it is an Army fort,” Foley said. “So when it comes to educating for the resources and needs, the growth on this installation is DOD growth.”
Fort Meade has 13 major construction projects underway to prepare new personnel and operations, Foley said.
“We need just over $60 million in military construction to widen and improve the road infrastructure to better support the population that commutes to and from the installation,” he said.
Other military branches are working on their force reduction plans, but it was not clear how that would impact assignments at Fort Meade.
Officials at the Naval Academy could not be reached for comment on the impact of downsizing in Annapolis. But Navy Office of Information spokesperson Lt. Chika Onyekanne said they expect manpower to be stable at 324,000 for the foreseeable future unless there are major force structure cuts.
In the year since he took over as commander, Foley said educating Army brass about the demands posed by continued growth at Fort Meade has been his biggest task.
“It definitely takes time to settle into a job like this, to learn the scope of responsibilities,” he said. “I’m very fortunate that they expanded the command length of this job from two to three years. You know you really need that first year to figure everything out and learn and identify where you want the organization to go and two years then to make progress.”
He credited work by Maryland’s congressional delegation and state officials in representing the interests of Fort Meade.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski made sure the post was involved in the DOD Healthy Base initiative. A pilot program, it teaches military families how to be healthy through meal preparation and grocery shopping. One of the fitness centers at Fort Meade is now open 24 hours.
“The partnerships are phenomenal,” Foley said. “Most of my peers on other Army forts that I’ve talked to, they’re thankful because just their mayor and their local chamber of commerce, they have good relations with them, we’ve got good relationships with the entire state.”