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Fort Meade garrison commander bids farewell after two years marked by housing issues, coronavirus

Maj. Gen. Omar Jones, senior Commander of the Military District of Washington and Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region, and Col. Erich C. Spragg at an awards ceremony before the change of command for Fort George G. Meade on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020.

U.S. ARMY

By HEATHER MONGILIO | The Capital | Published: August 19, 2020

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Col. Erich Spragg will miss the people the most as he bids Fort George G. Meade goodbye.

The garrison commander at Fort Meade relinquished his command Tuesday morning to Col. Christopher Nyland. Spragg, who served for two years at Meade, will next be the Army Chair of the United States Marine Corps War College.

Each military branch has its own traditions for change of command. For the Army, it is the use of flags to signify the end and beginning of a command.

Command Sgt. Maj. Michael E. Behnkendorf handed the flag to Spragg, signifying the last action between the garrison commander and the command sergeant major. Spragg then handed the flag to Maj. Gen. Omar Jones, commanding general of the Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region, ending Spragg’s command at Meade.

Jones handed the flag to Nyland, symbolizing the beginning of Nyland’s command as garrison commander.

Nyland will take the garrison command in the middle of a global pandemic, one of two challenges that defined Spragg’s time at Meade.

“If you didn’t have crises, garrison commander would be really boring,” Spragg said in an interview ahead of his change of command.

Spragg started COVID-19 town halls, often held on Thursdays evenings as a way to communicate with the Meade community. His advice for Nyland is to continue them, he said.

COVID-19 was new territory for everyone, and Spragg and his mission partners muddled through it together. The town halls helped keep people informed and reduced anxiety, Spragg said.

One decision Spragg took with COVID-19 was to reopen more slowly than the surrounding counties. Fort Meade is one of the largest employers in the state and pulls in people mainly from Anne Arundel and Howard counties. That meant Spragg needed to watch cases in both jurisdictions.

Spragg was cautious, but he took the right precautions, said Gina Stewart, chair for the Fort Meade Community Covenant.

Spragg was always upfront about the COVID-19 issues the military installation faced, said Tim O’Ferrall, general manager of the Fort Meade Alliance.

It was the same way he approached the housing issue. Meade was one of the military installations that drew national scrutiny over unsafe housing conditions in 2019.

“Most people associate Feb. 14 with Valentine’s Day,” Spragg said. “I associate it with Doomsday.”

A December 2018 Reuters report on housing tipped off Spragg that something bigger with housing was coming. But on Feb. 14, 2019, he felt like it was every senior leader in the Army visited him to ask what was going on with the housing on base.

Like with COVID-19, Spragg held town halls to address the issues. Those town halls gave him the chance to listen to what residents had to say and identify trends. From there, he established three different focus groups based on trends.

At first, most of the problems focused on mold — about 85% of homes had signs of mold. Mold remediation will likely finish in May 2021, he said.

Fort Meade still has housing concerns to address, but Spragg said the concerns have become less urgent and, in some cases, more trivial.

To Nyland, Spragg cautions to keep housing a priority. The housing crisis on Fort Meade did not appear overnight. The new commander should continue weekly meetings and hold housing company Corvias responsible.

Spragg’s response to housing stuck with O’Ferrall. The garrison commander listened to people and heard their concerns, O’Ferrall said. He helped people understand how the military would fix the problems.

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“He didn’t shirk from that responsibility. He stepped right into it,” O’Ferrall said.

Spragg helped to make Fort Meade a choice installation for those in the military, O’Ferrall said.

It’s likely that Spragg’s footprint on Fort Meade will be felt long after his time at the military installation. Projects initiated by the garrison commander take time and often do not finish until years after a garrison commander has left.

That was the first lesson Spragg taught himself, and one that Nyland will have to learn. The garrison commander will not likely see a project finish, but they need to forward momentum so a decision will not be reversed.

Spragg pushed for increasing barracks for junior enlisted unaccompanied soldiers. That project now falls to Nyland.

“And when I come back seven, 10 years from now, I will see new barracks and know that you know, I made a [difference], I helped,” Spragg said.

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