Every once in a while, someone suggests to Col. Edward Rothstein that his job is easy.
“BRAC is done,” they tell the Fort Meade installation commander. “You got past that tough part.”
Truth be told, accommodating the base realignment and closure activities that brought more than 5,700 workers to the installation was just the beginning.
Since opening the headquarters of three large agencies in the fall of 2011, the Army base has continued to expand and transform, and Rothstein has found himself juggling multiple projects and initiatives, all against the backdrop of uncertainty over the federal budget.
BRAC brought the headquarters of the Defense Informations Systems Agency (DISA), Defense Media Activity and Defense Adjudication activities. Those were significant additions to an installation that was already seeing growth at the dozens of other agencies on post.
But growth has continued over the last two years, with 95 tenant agencies—or partners, as Rothstein prefers to call them—now operating on the installation. Over the next several years, Fort Meade is expected to accommodate huge expansions at the National Security Agency (NSA) and U.S. Cyber Command. And the installation is seeing a flurry of other construction, ranging from road construction to a new PX shopping center, new housing, a new firing range and even a hotel.
“The transformation above and beyond BRAC is pretty amazing,” Rothstein said.
NSA and Cyber Command
Right now, more than 100,000 people pass through the gates of Fort Meade each day. Slightly more than half of those are people working on post. And that number is expected to rise.
Predicting the number of additional workers coming to Fort Meade is not an exact science, and Rothstein said he steers clear of offering specific projections. But figures circulated by Anne Arundel County show at least 11,000 more workers could come to Fort Meade by 2015. That includes 6,680 coming from the National Security Agency and 2,300 coming from U.S. Cyber Command the cyber commands of each military branch. Other agencies will add at least 2,000 jobs.
Evidence of NSA’s growth is apparent from the site of bulldozers and other heavy equipment on the site of Fort Meade’s former golf course. The NSA is building a data center and other facilities that will dwarf existing nearby buildings. Consider: the new DISA headquarters is a whopping 1.1 million square feet and brought more than 4,300 workers, but a map of planned construction shows NSA’s construction footprint to be three times that size.
A Flurry of Projects
Rothstein is in constant communication with Gen. Keith Alexander, the commanding officer for both NSA and Cyber Command. But much of his time is spent dealing with projects that have little to do with those two agencies.
Across the installation, there are more than a dozen smaller, but significant construction projects and other initiatives designed to improve conditions for those living and working on base.
New projects include:
-A complex of 432 one- and two-bedroom apartments, geared to accommodate unmarried service members.
-A 243-room hotel to be operated by Candlewood Suites.
-A new 167,000-square-foot post exchange (PX), with a larger food court and pharmacy.
-A new clinic operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs, one of the few of its kind to be located on an installation.
-A Wellness and Resiliency Center, and a rebranding of all related services to make people more aware of them.
-Additional classroom space to accommodate 300 more students at the Defense Information School.
-Interior renovations to Club Meade.
-An indoor firing range for the Asymmetric Warfare Group.
-A new shoppette and gas station.
-Two new child development centers, including one open 24 hours.
-Renovations to existing barracks.
-A new recycled water initiative.
Meanwhile, Fort Meade officials have been monitoring other initiatives, including the widening of Route 175 in front of the installation and projects related to the seven public schools on post.
Communication and Creativity
Unquestionably, all of this work can be disruptive to those living and working at Fort Meade. And it’s been especially tricky in the last year, as Fort Meade has hosted proceedings—and dealt with protests—relating to the court martial of alleged Wikileaks defendant Army Pfc. Bradley Manning.
That’s why Rothstein regularly meets with people all over the installation and outside in the community. One of his first acts as installation commander was to sign the Fort Meade Community Covenant, which solidified partnerships with local business and community groups, including the West Anne Arundel Chamber of Commerce, BWI Business Partnership and Fort Meade Alliance.
Rothstein has also made numerous presentations to groups ranging from the Anne Arundel County Council to local Chambers of Commerce and Rotary clubs.
“The key for all of this is communication,” he said. “I think we’ve come a long way, and we’ve got some great partnerships.”
Case in point: When NSA’s expansion took away the Fort Meade golf course, Rothstein struck a deal for reciprocal agreements at four public courses in Anne Arundel and Howard counties. When a tight budget forced Fort Meade to close its pool facility, the installation struck a deal with pools operated by the Columbia Association.
Rothstein's latest challenge has been to find a parking solution for those going to the existing PX, as the new PX is expected to be built on the current parking lot.
Like most Americans, officials at Fort Meade are watching closely the discussions on Capitol Hill regarding debt reduction. The so-called “fiscal cliff” that would kick in without a new agreement calls for significant reductions in defense spending, and Fort Meade would not be immune.
Rothstein said indications are that NSA and Cyber Command would be insulated from deep cuts, but other agencies on base might see reductions. But he said work must be done, and nothing can distract him from his core mission—maintaining the infrastructure, safety and security of Fort Meade.
“I’ve been instructed by my leadership to move forward with my priorities,” he said. “We’re being prudent and have our priorities in place and are moving forward.”