The Naval Surface Warfare Center at Indian Head survived the latest federal base-closing process largely intact, but, according to a military consultant, it was weakened and needs to bounce back stronger than before.
Christopher J. Goode, a senior adviser for the Washington lobbying firm Hyjek & Fix, told Southern Maryland leaders this week that Indian Head has a "robust and strong future." But he said the base, Charles County's largest employer, must broaden its reach beyond the field of explosives research and testing before the inevitable next round of military facility cuts.
"It has to be seen as the undisputed center of excellence for energetics," Goode -- using the term adopted by the military for its explosives work -- told a crowd of more than 100 business, political and military leaders who gathered Monday at the Indian Head Pavilion. "It can't be seen as just that small base at the end of the highway."
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) urged the coalition of local advocates, known as the Indian Head Defense Alliance, to help the military think creatively to attract new missions.
"The days of getting your assignment and sitting in your office and not reaching out are over," he said. "You're either growing or you're going."
Indian Head, which employees 3,600 military and civilian workers, had been considered vulnerable in this year's Base Realignment and Closure process, and it was slated for closure under one scenario.
But after a lobbying campaign that cost Charles $395,000 and included a video, personal letters and visits with decision makers, the Pentagon spared the base.
The BRAC report suggested moving the equivalent of 166 positions, or less than 5 percent of current employees, and essentially recognized Indian Head as the military's go-to center for the field of energetics.
After negotiations with the BRAC commission, Goode said the number of people scheduled to leave Indian Head was reduced to 91.
Even though the next BRAC process is unlikely to happen within the next five years, the Indian Head Defense Alliance already is trying to lure several Navy operations that are vacating leased offices in Northern Virginia in favor of government-owned properties.
John Bloom, president of the alliance, said the top concerns of the military leaders charged with making such decisions are affordable housing and the quality of public schools. He also asked the audience for help in shaping the base's future.
"It's as important now as it was before," Bloom said.
Indian Head, which sits on a peninsula along the Potomac River in western Charles, still faces competition from the Naval Weapons Station at China Lake in California. The momentum has been shifting to that larger base in the past decade.
Goode said there is no doubt that the Pentagon will look to Indian Head for its explosives technology.
"The question is, is energetics enough?" he said. "We think you need more."