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Fort Ritchie changes command one last time

June 24, 1997

By TERRY TALBERT

Staff Writer

With Fort Ritchie scheduled to close in 15 months, the command at the Army installation at Cascade changed hands for the last time in ceremonies Tuesday morning.

Fort Ritchie will close on Oct. 1, 1998, a victim of military downsizing.

Lt. Col. James A. LaFleur, commander at Fort Ritchie since June 1995, turned over command to Lt. Col. Francis (Frank) Clepper Jr. in a changing of the guard on the post parade field.

Immediately after the transfer of command LaFleur retired from the Army. He was presented with a certificate of appreciation from President Clinton, the commander in chief, for his 20 years of service to his country.

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In remarks after the ceremonies, LaFleur thanked both civilian and military personnel for their work at the post, and praised the soldiers "who go underground each day" into Site R, known locally as the underground Pentagon.

LaFleur said he sees "new possibilities and opportunities for the future" for the Cascade area when the base closes and is converted to civilian use.

He said he will remain a part of that community, which he has come to love. LeFleur, his wife and four daughters will live in Smithsburg.

"We've been wandering for 20 years searching for home," he said. "After spending two years here, we've ended that search. We've finally come home."

LeFleur said when he first came to Fort Ritchie, someone told him the mountains would capture his heart. They did.

Clepper, who came here from the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., said that for the past 18 years he'd made a career out of leaping from airplanes. "But that doesn't compare to my jump into this command," he said.

Foley praised LaFleur's performance as commander, and said his handling of the base closing process has been efficient and compassionate.

Clepper said he would have two priorities: To take care of the soldiers, their families and civilian workforce and "the transition needs of each individual" as Ritchie prepares to close; and to work with the Pen Mar Development Corporation on finding new uses for the post.

Pen Mar Development Corp. is a private-public agency that is leading efforts to turn the post into a business park for high-tech companies and corporate training centers.

The Army has rented five buildings to Pen Mar, which will in turn lease them to tenants. The International Masonry Institute is expected to sign a lease in the near future, Pen Mar Development officials have said.

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