Monday, March 07, 2011

BRAC Transforms Aberdeen Proving Ground Mission

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md., March 7, 2011 – With just over six months left to implement the Base Closure and Realignment Commission plan, the sweeping transformation it has sparked here is well under way and slated to be completed on time and under budget, officials reported.

The BRAC plan took effect in November 2005, and impacts more than 800 military installations. It involves closing some, consolidating or realigning others, and ultimately relocating some 123,000 military members and civilian employees. By law, all these actions must be completed by Sept. 15, 2011.

The plan is bringing major growth to Aberdeen Proving Ground -- more than 6,500 people and more than $1 billion in new construction to accommodate the new workers, Army Col. Orlando W. Ortiz, the garrison commander, told American Forces Press Service.

But it’s also bringing a fundamental change to the post’s historic mission, and how the Army ensures its warfighters have the most advanced equipment and systems possible to succeed on the battlefield.

The U.S. Army Ordnance Center and School, the major tenant that defined Aberdeen Proving Ground’s very identity for nearly a century, already has moved to Fort Lee, Va. There, it is part of the new Sustainment Center of Excellence, another BRAC initiative.

As officials here closed a page on their post’s legacy, they were busy preparing to open an exciting new one that would transform the installation into a hub of cutting-edge communications and electronics technology.

Aberdeen Proving Ground has long been heavily involved in the Army’s research, development, testing and evaluation mission, explained Army Col. Andrew Nelson, deputy garrison commander for transformation. But by consolidating many disparate and geographically separated organizations that supported those processes here at one post, BRAC is “bringing it to the next level,” he said.

“Aberdeen Proving Ground has been, but will be to a greater extent, one of the Army’s major hubs of research and development of new technologies, and the testing and evaluation of those new technologies that lead to fielding new systems to support the warfighter,” Nelson said.

“This is the center of all of that -- the technology development that is leading to soldiers being better equipped and better supported in the operational environment where they are,” he said. “It’s the clothes they wear, the radios they speak through, the computer system that tracks where individual vehicles and soldiers are on the battlefield, to having [unmanned aerial vehicles] that give them the best intelligence of what the enemy is doing.

“That is what Aberdeen Proving Ground already is, and what it will be about,” Nelson said. “Everything we do here is all about ensuring that the individual soldier and the combat leader have the best possible equipment and systems and technology that is giving them the advantage on the battlefield.”

The biggest group of new arrivals to support this expanded mission is a collection of activities referred to as “the C4ISR materiel enterprise” that focuses on command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

The lion’s share of its 7,200 people are coming from Fort Monmouth, N.J., which is closing under BRAC and transferring most of its functions to Aberdeen. The new arrivals hail from Fort Monmouth’s Communications and Electronics Command and Communications-Electronic Research, Development and Engineering Center and several of their program executive offices. Others are arriving from related activities at Redstone Arsenal, Ala.; Fort Huachuca, Ariz.; and Fort Belvoir, Va.

CECOM established a forward presence at Aberdeen in 2007, and officially uncased its colors here in October 2010. A steady stream of its workforce began arriving this past summer, some directly from Fort Monmouth, some from temporary swing space at Aberdeen and others, new hires replacing workers who chose not to relocate.

Today, about 60 percent of the new C4ISR team already has made the move to Aberdeen Proving Ground, settling into the state-of-the-art research and development campus known as the “C4ISR Center of Excellence.”

Meanwhile, construction crews are putting the finishing touches on the second phase of the C4ISR project, which Nelson said is expected to be completed this month or next. The entire C4ISR complex, once complete, will include 13 buildings and more than 2.5 million square feet of new space.

The next-largest group of newcomers to Aberdeen, numbering just over 600, hails from the Army Test and Evaluation Command headquarters and Army Evaluation Center, both in Alexandria, Va. While construction was wrapping up on its new headquarters, Army Maj. Gen. Genaro Dellarocco opted to move directly to Aberdeen, rather than temporarily to Alexandria, when he assumed command in October. Working in swing space at Aberdeen, he’s paving the way for the rest of the headquarters elements to follow, while supervising subordinate commands that were already based at Aberdeen when the BRAC recommendations were announced.

In addition, BRAC is consolidating a variety of other organizations at Aberdeen. These include the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense from Falls Church, Va.; Air Force Non-Medical Chemical-Biological Defense Development and Acquisition, from Brooks City Base, Texas; the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research from Forest Glen, Md., the Army Research Institute from Fort Knox, Ky., and the Army Research Laboratory’s Vehicle Technology Directorate from Langley, Va., and Glenn, Ohio.

The BRAC initiative also has brought a broad range of defense contractors to Aberdeen Proving Ground, where many are operating in a new 416-acre complex just outside the gate.

Ortiz credited detailed planning that started before the ink had even dried on the BRAC 2005 recommendations with ensuring the post is ready to receive the new arrivals.

The planners worked closely with inbound organizations to identify their exact requirements, and with state and local officials to ensure surrounding communities were prepared for the influx.

And, able to take advantage of an economic slump that made bidding on the 17 major construction projects required at Aberdeen Proving Ground highly competitive, they realized huge cost-savings in implementing BRAC.

“In our fiscal year 2010 program, we were awarding contracts at 60 to 70 percent of what the government estimate was [in 2005],” Nelson said. “That’s a big savings, money the Army didn’t have to invest here.”

The first major construction project, a new gate with five vehicle inspection lanes, was completed in May 2009. As the other projects took shape around the installation, less obvious to casual observers were the tremendous infrastructure improvements required to support them. These included multiple-lane gate accesses, roadways, water, sewer and electrical line and miles and miles of fiber optic cabling.

Exciting as these new developments are, Ortiz said he’s made a concerted effort to ensure Aberdeen’s 70-plus previous tenants don’t get short shrift.

“We don’t want haves and have-nots,” he said.

So the post has undertaken a massive plan to upgrade existing facilities and demolish many of its old World War I- and II-era buildings. Ultimately, plans call for demolishing 188 facilities and 775 housing units over the next five years. As these efforts continue, Nelson said he expects lots of activity at Aberdeen during the spring and summer months as workers move into new or renovated facilities. July is expected to be particularly busy.

With the clock ticking down, Ortiz said he’s confident Aberdeen Proving Ground is on track to fully comply with the Sept. 15 BRAC deadline.

“We’ve already integrated a sizeable number of the new workers and the buildings that aren’t already completed are very far along,” he said. “The conditions are pretty well set.”

The plan is going so well, in fact, that Ortiz expects Sept. 16, the first workday after the BRAC deadline, to be “just another day at work” at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

“I honestly do not believe that on Sept. 16, folks are going to notice anything different,” he said. “As the locals will tell you, for us, BRAC has already happened. The magic of that Sept. 15 date has long come and gone.”

So instead of fixating on the BRAC deadline, Aberdeen Proving Ground is focusing on its new, expanded mission, Ortiz said.

“What we’re focusing on is the future,” he said.”That’s where we really need to go.”

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