Col. Leonard R. Peterson, the commander of Andrews Air Force Base, sees himself as mayor what he calls a "medium-sized city."
The colonel, who wears thick, dark-rimmed glasses, which ride like wings on his nose, is proud of his base and its relationship with Prince George's County.
"We are not an island," said the 45-year-old base commander in an authoritative voice. "Sure we have guards at our gates, but the base is open to people in the county who have business here."
Peterson said the military parallels life in the county in many ways, but military people have made a special commitment.
One of those commitments, according to Peterson, is submitting to routine base inspections where officials check homes "to make sure lawns are neatly trimmed and no electricity is being wasted. . . . I guess in some ways I've got more power than a mayor."
Through several decades, the airmen - thousands of them - who have passed through Prince George's, have courted the county as if it were a well-kept woman. The affair lasts for two or three years and then they usually move on.
More than 1,500 airmen have left Andrews in the last year and have been replaced by more than 1,680 others.Currently there are about 12,000 airmen, along with their families, who live on base.
These airmen, in their fleeting affair with the county, have bought or rented homes, spent military paychecks - which now average a total of $147 million yearly - and have ultimately supported a county that has literally grown up around the military air base.
The symbiotic relationship between the county and the Air Force has been a bonus for local business. This past year alone, area businessmen have received $80 million in government contracts.
The air base, located in Camp Springs since 1942, has been more than a financial boon for the county, representing approximately 2 percent of the county's budget. It has been a focal point of national attention. It is, of course, the home of Air Force One, the presidential aircraft. Andrews provides the military version of taxi service for both foreign and domestically bound VIPs, including the President and congressmen.
Its orientation literature boasts: "We are part of history. Not the history of the past, but history in the making. We see, feel and participate in events and operations that directly affect the couse of world affairs . . ."
The base, which uses the latest aircraft to shuttle VIPs, has become a centerpiece for the Air Force. "This is where all the new equipment is displayed," said Sgt. Cleveland (Happy) Parker, a base spokesman.
"We use the latest jets from commercial airlines - right off the shelf - to transport the president and other officials," Parker said.
The base and the 89th Military Airlift Wing, which transports the VIPs, have not always received rave reviews: In 1976, Andrews was given the "Golden Fleece Award" by Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.), who called the base a federal boondoggle costing taxpayers $6 million a year.
The attack by Proxmire, which to some extent contributed to the transfer of at least 14 aircraft, has not eliminated the pride in working at the base, according to base spokesmen.
Officials for both the county and Andrews say the relationship between the county and the air base has had, and continues to have, many dimensions. They range from noise complaints - which average three a week - to UFO sightings and long-range planning affecting both the county and the air base.
Harry Neff, division director for the county community planning agency, said: "We have been trying to limit the housing in the areas immediately adjacent to the air base and have been trying to zone those areas for low-density employment - about 10 employes per square acre."
According to Neff, this plan, which would be in concert with a study the Air Force conducted in 1974, has never been formally adopted by the county, but has been a tool used in planning.
One of the problems with the plan, according to Neff, is that the Air Force conducted the study years after many homes were already built in the area.
The area, which includes both the Clinton-Tanglewood and Melwood planning sections, has been grappling with the problems of noise and safety for years.
Recently Marietta Der, a county planner who is in charge of Clinton-Tanglewood planning, said that citizens during public hearings last year were opposed to changing the zoning of their area to allow more low-density industry instead of residential housing. As a result, the County Council voted earlier this month to maintain the residential character of the area.
It is pride, along with the relationship with the county that partly prompted officials at the air base to hold an open house last weekend for the public.
The celebration of Armed Forces Day brought hundreds of area residents to the base. Pilots from the Thunderbirds, the Air Force's precision flying team, swooped down over the spectators in a special demonstration of tactical maneuvers. Drill teams marched. Static displays of airplanes and a number of demostrations by other aircraft were also featured.
"This will give them (county residents) a chance to see where their tax dollars are going," an Andrews spokesman said.
Peterson added that the day's festivities were "just another indication of our close relationship with the county."
When the role of the military is not being displayed during special occasions, life at Andrews appears to reflect the informal life of the county.
The informality at Andrews is not typical of most military installations. There is very little marching. Many airmen say they feel like they are working for a company rather than the military.
Sgt. Houston Taylor, a 21-year-old passenger representative based at Andrews, said: "I've been here a year and I really like it."
The airman, who recently finished a tour in Turkey, said he comes from Akron, Ohio.
"People just don't know how good they have it here," Taylor said.