He's Retiring, but His Task Is Far From Over
Thursday, May 29, 2008
The upcoming retirement of Fort Belvoir's base commander, Col. Brian W. Lauritzen, has left local, state and congressional leaders uneasy about plans to move 20,000 jobs to the post in southern Fairfax County.
Since Lauritzen took command at Belvoir three years ago, his job has been defined by one of the most massive reshufflings in Army history: a mandate under 2005 base-realignment legislation that effectively doubles the number of employees working on post. Lauritzen's job has been to make it happen, and to figure out how it will all work.
Lauritzen has been given credit for alerting his superiors at the Pentagon of the potential traffic nightmare that Virginia officials have warned about since 2005. Senior Army officials are considering redirecting about 6,000 of the Belvoir-bound jobs to Springfield or Alexandria. A decision is expected in July.
"He's an honest broker who has been trusted by all sides," said Virginia Transportation Secretary Pierce R. Homer. "I think the concerns that he raised with the Department of the Army and the Department of Defense were listened to because of his credibility. He never overstated his case, and he never understated it."
Lauritzen's work is far from done. With a deadline of 2011 to implement Congress's base-realignment mandate, Fort Belvoir is in some ways still at the beginning of the process of accommodating the influx. Lauritzen must study traffic projections and help the Army decide which road improvements are essential in and around the base. He must lead development of new base housing. And he must oversee the start of construction of several facilities on the post, including a large military hospital and a state-of-the-art headquarters for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
"We were given a mission. 'Hey, the decision's made. We're going to send 20,000 people to work at Belvoir at various locations. Now figure out how to make it happen,' " Lauritzen said in an interview last week. "I will admit to you, and I don't think this is at all disparaging against anybody, but we did gasp a bit when the word came out."
Post commands typically last two or three years. Lauritzen said he opted for a three-year assignment because he knew continuity with the base-realignment process would be important. Still, his three years expire in July, and local officials say they are anxious about his departure. Lauritzen will be replaced by Col. Jerry L. Blixt, currently assigned to one of Belvoir's soon-to-be tenants, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
"Unfortunately, the timing of his departure comes at a critical juncture," said Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Although the Army has agreed to disperse 6,000 employees, it hasn't chosen a new location, Connolly said. And although it has agreed to pay to complete the final leg of the Fairfax County Parkway, which will ease traffic immediately near Fort Belvoir, "it's not built yet." The county also must make sure it has room in public schools, recreational services and other government programs to accommodate families moving in.
"Breaking in a new commander complicates all that," Connolly said. "We'll make it work, but it will be a challenge."
Lauritzen, 47, grew up in Luray, Va., and Fairfax County. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy with a bachelor of science degree in engineering. He has a master's degree in mathematics and operations research.
As the end of his command at Fort Belvoir has approached, Lauritzen faced the choice of seeking another command or retiring. He chose the latter so he could move with his wife and family back to Carlisle, Pa., where they lived while Lauritzen attended the Army War College. The Lauritzens fell in love with the community and own a house and horses in Pennsylvania, he said.
Lauritzen is interested in pursuing a career in municipal consulting, which the base-realignment process has prepared him for, he said. He also enjoys teaching and said he might pursue that as well.