Aberdeen Proving Ground relights lighthouse after 72 years
May 23, 2011
ABOARD THE SPIRIT OF BALTIMORE NEAR POOLES ISLAND, CHESAPEAKE BAY, MARYLAND, 21 MAY 2011 -- Seventy-two years of darkness was overthrown with the flick of a switch as Aberdeen Proving Ground relit the Pooles Island Lighthouse, the oldest standing lighthouse on the Chesapeake Bay at about 9 p.m. today.
More than 300 spectators watched the show from the Spirit of Baltimore as part of a cruise sponsored by the Harford County Chamber of Commerce, Office of Economic Development, and the Army Alliance in cooperation with Aberdeen Proving Ground. Among those watching the historic event were Maj. Gen. Nick Justice, Installation and Research, Development and Engineering Command Commander, and Col. Orlando Ortiz, U.S. Army Garrison APG. A representative of Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley was also present to read a proclamation commemorating the occasion. A number of leaders from the civilian communities around Aberdeen Proving Ground also attended.
Justice and Ortiz led a ceremony from the open top deck of the ship to mark the event from within sight of the lighthouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As darkness settled on the historic island the two Army leaders were among those who fired a flare into the night sky. That signaled a team ashore to fire eight cannon shots, the last of which was followed by the lighthouse's beacon piercing the night for the first time in decades. The beacon began blinking in a four-three pattern to alert mariners they are passing the home of Team APG.
The history of APG was the subject of Ortiz's opening remarks as he kicked off the evening's official events. He oriented the guests to APG as seen from the Bay and recounted the post's history of support to the Army and the nation since it was established during World War I.
From the beginning the installation was a center for research, development and testing of a growing part of the Army's equipment inventory and chemical weapons, he said. That focus has sharpened during the installation's current transformation with the loss of the Ordnance Center and School and the addition of units such as the Army Test and Evaluation Command and the Army team that develops and fields equipment for the service's critical Command, Control, Communications and Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance missions.
This change led O'Malley to note in his proclamation that, "by illuminating the Lighthouse, the installation is lighting a path to the Army's future in research, development, engineering, and contingency response efforts."
The installation's focus on the future is matched by its care for the past, Ortiz said.
"Our support to our nation goes well beyond the contributions we make to national defense. As you can see with tonight's event, we're dedicated to preserving our history. We are also dedicated to protecting our nation's environmental resources."
Ortiz noted that the installation's most prominent success story is its Bald Eagle Management Program, which has helped increase the number of bald eagle nests from one in 1965 to 112 today. But the land around the lighthouse is a microcosm of the larger success of turning thousands of acres that were cleared farming land when the Army bought the property in 1917, back into forests teeming with perhaps the most diverse and thriving wildlife population on the Bay.
Justice singled out a group of passengers with a long association with that property. More than 30 descendents of the last longtime lighthouse keeper Capt. Stephen Andrew Cohee used the occasion to gather for a family reunion.
"Thank you for joining us here tonight I can only imagine what witnessing this event must mean to you, because I get goose bumps just to be able to bring this piece of history back to Maryland," Justice said.