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Fort Ritchie to house reservists

November 28, 2001

Fort Ritchie to house reservists



By LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Fort Ritchie will soon house members of the U.S. Army Reserve, marking the first military use of the U.S. Army base since it was closed in October 1998.

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Abandoned barracks are being spruced up to house about 70 military police reservists who have been called up to help with homeland security since Sept. 11.

The soldiers belong to the 307th Army Reserve in New Jersey and the 324th Army Reserve in Chambersburg, Pa., said Eileen Mitchell, spokeswoman for Fort Detrick.

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Reservists were called up to help Fort Detrick with added security in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

Fort Detrick, home to the Army's germ warfare research, is also responsible for security at Site R, also known as the "underground Pentagon," in nearby Blue Ridge Summit, Pa.

For security reasons, Mitchell would not say exactly where on the base the reservists will stay.

Their presence won't interfere with PenMar Development Corp.'s redevelopment plans, said Brett Wilson, chairman of PenMar's board of directors.

The Army still owns all of the land, but PenMar hopes to take ownership of the first 282 acres by the end of the year, Wilson said.

Under the current timetable, all of the land won't be in PenMar's hands before 2004, he said.

Fort Detrick doesn't have space to house all the reservists, who are spread out at various locations, Mitchell said.

Officials thought Fort Ritchie would be one of the least-expensive options to house all the reservists at one place, she said.

"It was one of the obvious choices," she said.

Wilson doesn't believe the government will pay rent for the use of the space, since it is owned by them, although he expects the Army will pay for maintenance and utilities.

While the buildings have not been used since the base closed in 1998, they have been maintained and are in good shape, Wilson said.

The military's presence will not infringe on the ongoing cleanup of unexploded ordnance, said Bill Hofmann, environmental coordinator.

More groups connected to the military have visited the former Army base since Sept. 11, Hofmann said.

Last month, the White House rejected Washington County's offer of Fort Ritchie as headquarters for the new Office of Homeland Security.

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