The 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives Command cut the ribbon on its new headquarters in a ceremony attended by previous unit leaders, community representatives, and retired Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Richard Cody Oct. 18 at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
The building's opening coincided with the organization's 15th anniversary. The 20th CBRNE Command stood up in 2004 in reaction to the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In May 2003, Cody, the then-deputy chief of staff of the Army for operations and plans, signed a memo codifying the 20th as the "organizational solution for an operational command to gain efficiencies, better focus, coordinate, and employ Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and High-Yield Explosives (CBRNE) response capabilities." That memo led to the command's Oct 16, 2004, activation.
"After 9/11, we had a lot of capability in the U.S. Army, but we didn't have a lot of depth. We needed a great CBRNE capability, but it had to be tactical, operational and strategic. I just signed a four-page memo; I didn't know all the details, but I had a lot of smart people who told me we needed to do this," Cody said. "Now you've shown your fellow Soldiers what you can do in the capabilities you've brought and the lives you've saved."
Brig. Gen. James Bonner, who has commanded the 20th CBRNE Command since July 2017, connected the new headquarters' opening with the actions of Cody and other senior leaders over the years.
"Looking at these great facilities behind me and across the street, I realize that 20th CBRNE Soldiers are the recipients of a gift," Bonner said. "A gift of a vision by senior Army leaders -- several of them here today -- who years ago saw the operational need for this singular command and fought through the competitive budgeting process to make their vision a reality."
Bonner, along with Command Sgt. Maj. Henney Hodgkins, was joined by Lt. Gen. Leslie Smith, inspector general of the Army; Maj. Gen. Mitchell Kilgo, commander of U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command; CECOM Command Sgt. Maj. Frank Gutierrez, Jr., and several of the organization's former commanders and senior enlisted leaders for the ribbon cutting. Smith, who commanded the unit from 2010 to 2013, emphasized the uniqueness of the command and the need to increase its capacity.
"The trust the nation has in you is such a big deal. No other unit can do what you do, but you have to maintain your expertise," he said. "We have to get smarter, because the enemy is getting smarter."
The opening of the new headquarters also marked completion of the command's movement from its former location in multiple buildings on the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground. Kilgo, the senior mission commander for Aberdeen, said he was glad to see more Soldiers among the installation's 21,000-person workforce, comprised largely of civilians.
"Being a Soldier, I'm accustomed to seeing thousands of our great green suiters on any Army installation every day," he said. "I'll admit, I enjoy now having more of our men and women in uniform here on APG."
The new headquarters represents an $88.4 million refurbishment of a two-building complex that housed the U.S. Army Ordnance School until it relocated to Fort Lee, Virginia, in 2011. It houses more than 186,000 square feet and 496 work stations, and 270 military personnel and 115 civilians currently work there. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, supported the multi-year project with contract administration and onsite construction management.
"We're proud to provide the newly-renovated headquarters facility for the 20th CBRNE Command to ensure they have a state-of-the-art facility to support their vital mission requirements," said Baltimore District Commander Col. John Litz. "We partner with the 20th CBRNE Command on environmental cleanup efforts and get to see how important their mission is firsthand, which makes it that much more gratifying to be able to deliver this facility to their team."
Kilgo said the day marked a rebirth for buildings that had been vacant since the U.S. Army Ordnance School's move, and that rebirth echoed bigger Army-wide changes.
"In many ways, this transformation mirrors the renaissance of modernization, reform and readiness taking place across the Army. Since 2004, the 20th has played a critical roll in ensuring readiness at a moment's notice," he said.
Civic leaders including Harford County Executive Barry Glassman attended the ceremony, and Glassman presented a proclamation honoring the 20th CBRNE Command. Following the ribbon cutting, Cody joined Bonner and Hodgkins in unveiling a memorial to the lives lost at the Pentagon during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The memorial, built by the APG department of public works, contains a slab of limestone that was extracted from the destruction. The memorial's inscription, carved into its granite base, reads, "The 20th CBRNE Command dedicates this memorial to those who lost their lives in the attacks on September 11, 2001. This surviving piece of limestone symbolizes the strength of our will. LIBERTY WE DEFEND!"
After the ceremony, Army and community leaders toured the facility and ate lunch. Bonner wrapped up the day's events by awarding Cody the inaugural Defender of Liberty Award, intended to "honor individuals for their exemplary service in support of the 20th CBRNE Command, its Soldiers and its mission."
"Thank you," Cody said. "You are unique. Take great pride in that uniqueness."