ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Harford County and regional business leaders gathered at the Top of the Bay club May 20 to celebrate Armed Forces Day and pledge support to the Soldier and civilians of this installation.

The Army recognized the installation's Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year: Sgt. Hiram Hendri and Spec. Sharia Leal, both from the U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional).

The Soldiers received Army Commendation Medals for their accomplishments, as well as gifts and trophies from the Association of the U.S. Army and many local businesses.

Aberdeen Proving Ground Commanding General Maj. Gen. Nick Justice thanked the attendees for their support and gave a brief history of the installation.

"We've got some great history here," Justice said. "How many of you realize how vibrant this are is' What a wonderful historic place here at Aberdeen Proving Ground."

The general gave class like a history professor to a standing-room only crowd of 375 community and business people following a luncheon.

"It opened up at the beginning of World War I," he said. "The Army was testing the kind of explosives we needed to go over to Europe and fight in the trenches of France. I know that because my grandfather went to the trenches of France and fought with the 81st 'Wildcat' Division from down on the east coast of North Carolina. That was what we did."

The general asked for a show of hands.

"How many of you drive SUVs'"

Justice explained how the first military jeeps received testing at the proving ground before World War II.

"By the time World War II struck, the general purpose utility truck, quarter ton, had been tested, developed and designed right here on these tracks that we still use to test combat vehicles," he said. "The development of the Jeep by the military eventually led to the civilian version, the modern sports utility vehicle. So, if you've got an SUV, please tell me thank you ... you're welcome."

Justice said APG workers are dedicated to making the Army the most lethal, powerful, most dominant force on the battlefield.

"That's what we do," he said. "That's what you will help us do."

After showcasing the history of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Justice asked the group what the future would look like.

"Can you imagine what will happen in your backyard in the next 60, 75, of 100 years'" he asked. "I'm telling you this because it affects you in your business, your lives and your communities."

The general explained how the proving ground is going to be dramatically changed by the Base Realignment and Closure process. There is a tremendous shift happening at APG, the general explained.

"This has been a critical month for us; an absolutely critical month," he said. "Units that have been here for decades are casing their colors and moving to different installations. If any of you don't know what the BRAC is, it's upon us. Those are benchmarks by which we look at the change in the community."

Justice said the science and technology units coming to APG will create a "synergy of technology and talent" in one place.

"It will make a big difference," he said. "You're going to see the area between Baltimore and the Susquehanna blossom with energy and potential."

Justice told the group that their community is a national treasure and said the Army is doing everything to keep the environment pristine.

Harford County Chamber of Commerce President William Seccurro thanked the general for the presentation and pledged his support for the military.

"We appreciate the sacrifices of our military servicemembers," he said.

Maj. Gen. Nick Justice (left) and Command Sgt. Maj. Hector Marin (right) congratulate Aberdeen Proving Ground NCO of the Year Sgt. Hiram Hendri during a Top of the Bay luncheon May 20.