In a new laboratory nestled among 92 acres of wetlands and forest near Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, research will soon be underway on ways to better protect military personnel and civilians against chemical or biological warfare.
The Battelle Eastern Region Technology Center, a $20 million, 78,000-square-foot facility with 16 chemical and biological laboratories and 200 employees, has been completed and is set to open with a ribbon-cutting next month.
Battelle, founded 70 years ago, is one of the largest nonprofit research and development firms in the world. In recent years, Battelle has helped develop the first fully functional automatic pathogen detectors and has provided technical support for destroying the military's chemical weapons stockpile, which includes a large stock of mustard gas stored at Aberdeen Proving Ground's Edgewood Area.
Among other work, the new lab at Aberdeen will research ways to improve the detection of chemical and biological weapons, according to C. Warren Mullins, vice president of business development for the facility.
Fear of chemical or biological attack has created a burgeoning market for Battelle's services in the District, Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland. Battelle already has inspected more than 100 buildings in the Washington area and made recommendations on how to better protect them against chemical or biological attack, Mullins said.
The company has a contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington to develop the "building of the future," Mullins said.
Battelle has been involved in the development of a mobile early warning detection system now being used around the Washington area.
Called the Joint Biological Point Detection System Vehicle, the system has been put in vans that can move to different locations in the Washington area to monitor air for biological agents.
A new generation is being developed, and one mounted in a Humvee was on display outside the new Battelle laboratory during a recent press briefing. The system had been undergoing vibration testing at Aberdeen, riding in the Humvee on off-road trails at the sprawling base on the Chesapeake Bay.
Mullins said Battelle chose to put the new laboratory in Aberdeen in part because of its proximity to the chemical and biological defense work being done by the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
"If you had to pick one spot on Earth where more of it's done, you'd have to say Edgewood and Aberdeen," Mullins said.
Work at the lab will include research with dangerous pathogens, possibly including anthrax. The facility includes a bio-safety level III laboratory certified to handle some dangerous organisms.
"To do the kind of work we're doing, you have to have a lot of protection for the environment and a lot of controls," Mullins said.
Much of the work at the laboratory will be classified, he added. Said Mullins, "Some of our clients don't want their names mentioned."
Vets Returning to Iwo Jima Cy O'Brien of Silver Spring will be among a group of at least 120 American veterans returning to Iwo Jima next month on a trip marking the 58th anniversary of the battle and meeting with the Japanese soldiers they fought.
O'Brien, 84, was a combat correspondent with the Marine Corps and participated in landings at Bougainville, Solomon Islands and Guam. He didn't land on Iwo Jima until the fighting was largely finished and he viewed the raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945, from a transport.
The island "holds a fascination to me," O'Brien said. "You go back to Iwo, and it's the same as it ever was, dark and foreboding. Nothing to redeem it except for the fact it was a battleground."
Seizure of the island, which cost more than 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 dead, helped secure the safety of American bombers attacking Japan.
On March 12, the U.S. veterans will meet with members of the Iwo Jima Survivors Association of Japan. The group will also visit Guam.
Veterans or family members interested in joining the March 6-14 trip, which is being handled by Military Historical Tours in Alexandria, should call the group Combat Veterans of Iwo Jima at 703-212-0695.
More Local Soldiers Called Up
The list of local Guard and Reserve units being called up for active duty and the number of families being separated keeps growing as the United States prepares for the possibility of war with Iraq.
On Feb. 13, the D.C. National Guard's 104th Maintenance Company was mobilized for federal duty and will be sent overseas for the first time since World War II. District Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) was among those who joined more than 100 soldiers and family members for a mobilization ceremony at the U.S. Naval Station at Anacostia.
Meanwhile, more than 300 soldiers from two Maryland National Guard units were called to federal active duty Feb. 11 in support of U.S. military operations.
The 115th Military Police Headquarters and Headquarters Company from Salisbury and the 1,229th Transportation Company in Crisfield are being mobilized for one year. Before shipping overseas, they will report this week to Aberdeen Proving Ground.
"We're very proud that our citizen soldiers and airmen in Maryland continue to have a major part of America's war on terror," Maj. Gen. Bruce F. Tuxill, the adjutant general of Maryland, said in a statement. "I am not surprised that both these units are being called again because of successful past deployments."
The 115th returned only eight months ago from active duty in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the unit assisted with in-processing and guarding of al Qaeda and Taliban detainees from Afghanistan and other countries.
The 1,229th served from November 1990 to May 1991 during the Persian Gulf War, when it transported ammunition, food, water and other supplies to front-line troops.
In addition, more than 200 soldiers from the Maryland Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 175th Infantry, headquartered in Dundalk, will begin providing security at Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County beginning today.
The deployment to Andrews results from what Air Force officials call an unprecedented agreement, under which the Army will provide as many as 10,000 Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers to assist with security at Air Force installations.
The arrangement is aimed at providing security for military installations on the home front while large numbers of Air Force security force personnel deploy overseas in support of global operations, including the possible war with Iraq.
Military Matters appears in the Extra twice each month. Steve Vogel can be reached at email@example.com.