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Fort Ritchie gets its last CO

June 17, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

FORT RITCHIE - Col. David E. Titus, who formally took command of the 1108th U.S. Army Signal Brigade Tuesday, will spend his first three months preparing to move the unit that is in charge of the "red phone" to its new home at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md.

That move will be one of the logistical challenges facing Army commanders as they wind down operations at Fort Ritchie, which will close in September.

For Titus, preparing for the move won't be a new experience.

In his last job as chief of the Plans and Operations Division of the U.S. Southern Command, Titus helped move the command headquarters from Panama to Miami.

The move to Fort Detrick will be a matter of only a few miles.

"For me, it's kind of the same thing but on a smaller scale," he said.

Titus took command of the 1108th from Col. Velma L. Richardson in a ceremony on the parade ground of the base in the northeast corner of Washington County.

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For Fort Ritchie, it was the last-ever change-of-command ceremony. An inactivation ceremony for the fort is scheduled for July 17.

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

The change of command followed time-honored military traditions, from the passing of the unit's colors to a review of the troops. The 389th U.S. Army Band played, signifying the historical importance of the drum, fife and other instruments to the military.

Kathy Fotheringham, a base spokeswoman, said a march, counter-march maneuver performed by the troops is very rare.

"That shows you the significance of this," she said.

Tuesday's event occurred against a backdrop of satellite and other communications equipment that highlight the brigade's mission.

The 1108th provides strategic communications support and information support to the military and other federal agencies.

The high-profile responsibilities of the brigade is running the hotline between Moscow and Washington and maintaining the communications equipment at Site R in Pennsylvania. That facility, known locally as the underground Pentagon, is a relocation center for the Pentagon in the event of nuclear war.

Maj. Gen. Charles G. Sutten Jr., whose U.S. Army Information Systems Command oversees the 1108th, called the unit "arguably, the most critical brigade in the Army and defense establishments."

Sutten praised Richardson, the brigade's commander for the last two years, who is up for promotion. Under Richardson's watch, the brigade assumed command of the 55th Signal Co., a unit that films and photographs battles.

Titus, 44, said he will work to create as seamless a transition to Fort Detrick as possible.

"I'm committed to leading the brigade into the 21st century," he said.

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