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New garrison commander takes over at Fort Meade

Col. Erich C. Spragg took over as garrison commander at Fort Meade, the largest employer in Maryland.

U.S. ARMY PHOTO

By RONA HIRSCH | Soundoff!, Laurel, Md. | Published: August 9, 2018

LAUREL, Md. (Tribune News Service) — During his 23-year career in military intelligence, Col. Erich C. Spragg has undertaken numerous — and daunting — challenges.

He served three tours in Iraq, arriving with the first wave of Allied forces in 2003.

He earned a master’s degree in public policy at Georgetown University as part of a prestigious internship program that included a year at the Pentagon.

In 2016, he served with NATO forces in Turkey, arriving the same moment as a military coup unfolded.

Now, at age 46, Spragg is embracing yet another challenge — commander of the Fort Meade garrison.

In his new role, Spragg will oversee operations at Fort Meade, the second largest military installation in the U.S. by population and Maryland’s largest single employer, boasting a workforce of 56,000 people and 119 tenant organizations.

“You come into the military, you want to lead, you want to command,” Spragg said. “So having the honor and the privilege of even being selected among peers to command is something I don’t take lightly. I’m jumping at the opportunity. I will love it.”

Spragg recalled that when he first drove onto Fort Meade through the Route 32 gate, he expected a much larger military installation.

“I was shocked. I was on Mapes Road and I thought I was going to drive forever,” he said. “I thought it was going to be a Fort Bragg-type thing. Then I came to the far gate. I said, ‘I guess this is it.’

“So I was shocked at the geographical size. But I was even more shocked when I found out this is Maryland’s largest employer. It’s amazing what’s packed into Fort Meade.”

Inspired To Serve

A native of Michigan and the youngest of four, Spragg was born Feb. 21, 1972 to Gerry Michael Spragg Sr., who worked in a variety of fields including pharmaceutical sales, and Judith, a retired nurse.

Their jobs led to frequent moves. The family lived in Grand Blanc, Michigan, until Spragg was about 8, then moved to Jackson, Tennessee, Lake Charles, Louisiana, and in 1987, Columbia, South Carolina.

“That’s what I really associated with home,” Spragg said. “I can sympathize with my children when they say, ‘Here we go, moving again.’ I can say I did the same thing. … My oldest daughter moved four times in high school.”

Spragg was inspired to serve in the military because of his family.

His father was an Army medic for the 1st Cavalry (War) Division post-Korea. His brother, Gerry Michael Spragg Jr., who is 11 years older, is a retired Army lieutenant colonel. His older sister Cynthia, an occupational therapist, is a captain in the Air Force Reserve.

In 1995, Spragg was commissioned as a military intelligence officer after graduating with a degree in political science at Clemson University in South Carolina, where he was in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.

“I wanted to be like my older brother,” he said.

Spragg partly attributes his decision to go Army to the popular military TV shows of the 1980s like “M.A.S.H.” and “China Beach” and the Vietnam War movie “Platoon.”

“When you are talking about the military, the only thing that came up was Army,” he said.

Military Journey

Spragg’s career has taken him to many military posts stateside and overseas, including Fort Gordon, Georgia; Fort Huachuca, Arizona; Fort Stewart, Georgia; Goodfellow Air Force Base, San Angelo, Texas; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the Pentagon, Iraq and Turkey.

The various stages in his military journey have served to provide him experiences and training that have informed his leadership and command skills.

One of the highlights was a year of study at Georgetown University. In 2004, Spragg earned a master’s degree in public policy at Georgetown as part of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Office of the Secretary of Defense Intern Program. Senior captains are typically nominated and selected.

The three-year program included one year at Georgetown, from 2003 to 2004, and one year at the Pentagon, from 2004 to 2005, with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

For his third year, Spragg opted to return to Iraq for a second tour as a Military Transition Team member from 2005 to 2006.

“I loved Georgetown; that was a great experience,” Spragg said. “I also enjoyed working at the Pentagon. I was a captain, but I was in the front office of J-8 [the Force Structure, Resources, and Assessment Directorate].

“Just being exposed to policy and planning at that level is something captains don’t [usually] get to experience.”

After returning from Iraq, Spragg attended the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., from 2006 to 2007.

For the next two years, he was the battalion operations officer and battalion executive officer for the 344th Military Intelligence Battalion at Goodfellow Air Force Base.

From 2014 to 2016, four years after his third deployment to Iraq, Spragg commanded the 309th MI Battalion at Fort Huachuca.

Prior to accepting his newest assignment as garrison commander, Spragg was chief of the Knowledge and Analysis Section for the NATO Rapid Deployable Corps in Turkey from 2016-2017.

“That was a wonderful experience,” he said.

Particularly memorable was the failed coup that coincidentally started as Spragg arrived at Istanbul Atatürk Airport on July 15, 2016.

“That’s a day I will never forget. …,” he said. “I landed precisely when the coup began, [at 5 p.m.].”

Outlining his goals as garrison commander, Spragg said safety and security are among his top priorities.

“With any military installation, whether within the continental United States or overseas or in a contingency area, first and foremost is the safety and security of the people on the post,” he said.

“That lines up with the Installation Management Command priorities.”

Listen And Learn

Another goal, he said, is ensuring that the tenant partners on post maintain readiness.

“That requires continued open dialogue with the tenant units to understand what their needs are, and then just continuing to work the infrastructure projects around here to allow them to do their jobs,” he said.

“Right now, my plan initially is just to listen and to learn. So the next two to three months, that’s kind of what my primary focus is going to be: understanding who’s who at Fort Meade, what their needs are, what the families’ needs and desires are.

“And after a certain time, make an assessment and figure out where we need to go from there.”

Maintaining strong ties with community leaders outside the post is also a priority.

“Fort Meade has a very rich history as a military installation,” Spragg said. “But I think that today, it’s not just about being a military installation. It’s about the region, it’s about the community itself.

“Therefore, there has to be open and constant communication with community leaders at all levels.

“So I fully intend to continue along the same path that Colonel [Tom] Rickard established. It’s vital for outside the gate and it’s vital for inside the gate.”

Applying Solutions

As garrison commander, Spragg said he will draw on his educational experiences at both the JCS intern program and the National Defense University at Fort McNair, Washington, where he earned his second master’s degree in 2018 in international security affairs.

“At Georgetown University, for the first time in my career, I was sitting down with professional civilians in an academic atmosphere, looking at problems and coming up with solutions that had nothing to do with the military,” he said.

“But it was interesting to see how a civilian methodology to understand a breakdown of a problem and apply solutions [works].

“It took me almost a year to figure out it’s MDMP [Military Decision-Making Process], just a civilian brand to it. That was a unique experience.”

At the National War College, he learned there may be no single solution to the problems he may face.

“The experience taught me that at the strategic level and at senior leadership levels, the problems you’re going to encounter are very complex,” he said.

“There may be a number of right answers that you’re going to have to choose from and try to minimize any second- and third-order effects.

“You have to anticipate how your solutions will have impact down the road and on the community.”

Nor is any one person making the decision.

“You’re going to have to bring in different agencies, different organizations,” Spragg said. “And you have to influence them and make them understand, and kind of bring them onboard to come up with these solutions.”

Spragg said his previous military assignments will also shape his approach to commanding a joint installation.

“I had the opportunity to work a lot of joint assignments,” he said.

“So working with the Air Force, Navy and Marines Corps — multiple touch points throughout my career — then also working with coalition forces in Iraq and NATO Allied members in Turkey gave me a different perspective: not all things are Army and not all things are the Army way.

“So working with sister services, working with partner countries, you kind of learn different ways of looking at problems. You also understand that each service is unique and there are some nuances that you have to be aware of when working with them.”

Settling In

Spragg is settling into Fort Meade with his wife, Heather, an early childhood educator.

The couple have four children: Elizabeth, 21, who resides in Manassas, Virginia; Hannah, 18, a freshman at Valdosta State University in Georgia; James Michael, 14, who will attend Meade High School; and Emma Cate, 10.

The couple met in high school. “We were high school sweethearts,” he said.

Spragg transferred out of the University of South Carolina after a year to join Heather at Clemson University. They married in 1996.

Spragg, who plays golf, still follows the Clemson Tigers and attends games at least once a year.

“As a matter of fact, if you want to get me off task, just start talking Clemson football,” he said. “Any chance we can, we’ll go.”

Contemplating his new role, Spragg admits to being a bit apprehensive.

“Nervous, anxious about it? Yes, if I’m being honest, because I don’t know what I don’t know,” he said. “This is garrison. My comfort zone would be in a military intelligence unit. That’s something I know.

“[As garrison commander,] I’m not necessarily dealing with Soldiers. I’m dealing with Army civilian corps professionals. I’m dealing with sister services. I’m dealing with family members, retirees, community leaders.

“So it’s going to be different. But I look forward to the challenge.”

©2018 the Soundoff! (Laurel, Md.)
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