Army Col. Mary R. Deutsch stood over the map like a general planning a campaign.
Modeled in cardboard topography and wooden buildings was her new battlefield: Fort Detrick, the sprawling medical base in Frederick. She pointed to a new commissary, a 365-unit housing project, a medical logistics facility, a visitor center. And the 200-acre area looped by a blue border was the $10 billion National Interagency Biodefense Campus, the largest biodefense research center in the country.
The map showed how the base will look in 2012, long after Deutsch finishes the two- to three-year stint as garrison commander she began this month. As other military installations in the region are contracting or closing, Detrick's business is booming. As the new chief, Deutsch will have to balance the roles of officer, politician and architect as she pushes forward a massive construction program -- an assignment that calls for a charismatic touch.
In her first interview since taking command June 10, Deutsch, 48, said she would take up the nickname -- "the mayor of Fort Detrick" -- used by her predecessor, Col. John E. Ball. The base is familiar territory to Deutsch, a medical logistics specialist who also sports parachutist's jump wings: In her last assignment, she served as chief of staff for the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command at Fort Detrick. Before that, she worked with civilians as an Army War College fellow with the Department of Health and Human Services.
"Mayor" may be an appropriate description of her role, an unusual one within the military. She is a commanding officer, but only a handful of uniformed soldiers serve under her. She runs a military base, but most of the 7,800 people who work there are civilians. Finally, Fort Detrick -- the largest employer in Frederick County -- is in the heart of Maryland's second-largest city, meaning she cannot remain aloof from local residents.
The importance of public relations only grew in the days before Deutsch took office, when about 100 members of organizations opposing Detrick's expansion rallied and marched through downtown Frederick, saying the base's work on anthrax and other potential biological weapons could endanger residents' health. Protesters also wondered whether the military, which had been secretive during the Cold War about bioweapons research, would level with the public about accidents on base.
Deutsch attempted to calm these fears. "We have always been forthright with the community," she said. "We don't hide anything."
Barry Kissin, a Frederick activist who helped organize the June 5 rally, welcomed Deutsch and hoped that she would talk with residents. "For the past year, Col. Deutsch's predecessor, Col. Ball, and I, engaged in an ongoing and candid dialogue," Kissin said in a statement. "I hope that Col. Deutsch also makes herself available to such a dialogue with the members of our community who have many concerns about the operation of and the openness of the rapidly expanding biowarfare programs at Fort Detrick."
Another key to her relationship with the city will be how Deutsch gets along with Frederick's mayor, Jennifer P. Dougherty. Dougherty said she had open communication with Ball and expected that to continue.
"We ask each other real questions and expect real answers, not just political mumbo jumbo," Dougherty said in an interview.
Deutsch agreed: "We have to be the good neighbor," she said.
The most likely point of friction is the construction of the biodefense campus. While expansion of the base will bring new jobs to the city, Dougherty has said she is worried about the risk to residents and has suggested that an independent party monitor air and soil conditions to ensure that hazardous materials stay inside the base.
Deutsch said she thought that further regulation was unnecessary. "We have been in this business for a long time, and we have pretty extensive experience on our environmental systems," she said. "We are already regulated by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and other federal regulators. . . . We have a very strong safety record."
When told of Deutsch's remarks, the mayor replied that the city could perform the tests outside the base. "Her mission is inside the fence," she said. "Mine is outside the fence."
In the end, the mayor concluded, she trusts Deutsch. The two met in March, at a lunch to celebrate Women's History Month. The subject gave them something to bond over: Deutsch is the first woman to serve as garrison commander at Fort Detrick, and Dougherty is the first female mayor of Frederick.
Deutsch played down her role as a pioneer, not mentioning it in an interview. But in a follow-up e-mail she said: "As the first female Garrison Commander of Fort Detrick, I hope that I can serve as a role model for not only the female soldiers but for all soldiers. I was not selected for this position because I am a woman, but rather as a result of my demonstrated ability in a series of demanding leadership positions."
But Dougherty said that when they met, Deutsch showed a maternal concern for her 8-year-old daughter, Lauren Nicole. "She was very engaging, and I think the first 20 minutes of our conversation was about her life, her child, and where her child was going to go to school, and all the adjustments she would have to make as a mom, and not as a military person," Dougherty said. "She's smart, she's intelligent, she's trained."
Given that Deutsch and her family live on the base, Dougherty said, residents can count on the new commander handling the hazardous materials at Fort Detrick with the care they deserve.
"No mom is going to knowingly put her daughter in harm's way," Dougherty said. "I just don't think that's going to happen."