Major General Randy S. Taylor
As Aberdeen Proving Ground celebrates its centennial, a new commander is settling into his office and his new community.
Major General Randy S. Taylor assumed duties as the 15th commander of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) and Senior Mission Commander of Aberdeen Proving Ground April 13.
Taylor, 54, has witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was part of humanitarian missions to Somalia and Haiti as well as to help victims of Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm that hit Florida and the Bahamas in 1992. Other postings took him to Turkey and the Sinai Desert, the White House and, most recently, the Pentagon.
Aberdeen, he says, was his first choice for his next command.
Taylor recognizes the unique nature of Aberdeen, the diversity of its mission and the capability of its staff. “It doesn’t exist anywhere else in the country,” he says.
He notes some of the statistics of the 100-year-old Army facility:
• 27,000 employees, including 1,300 soldiers;
• 4,000 PhDs, engineers and others with advanced degrees;
• a “very dedicated” workforce whose average age is 48
He calls Aberdeen “the premier test facility for the Army” and says anything a soldier uses in battle is developed and researched here, issued, sustained and maintained from here.
When it came time for his next assignment, he had a bit of a say in where he wanted to go. “That’s not usually the case in the Army. You go where they send you,” he says.
He wanted to go to Aberdeen Proving Ground. “It was by far, my No. 1 choice.”
Taylor was attracted not only by the base’s diverse mission, but by the area’s natural environment, as well. The APG property, with 144 miles of shoreline, is home to nearly 400 bald eagles, the highest population of bald eagles on a military installation in the United States, Taylor adds. “To me that is just paradise,” he says.
Taylor says APG’s work in its five centers of excellence – research and development, testing and evaluation, chemical/biological, public health, and Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance – affect soldiers around the world.
Area residents still hear and feel the explosions during weapons testing, just as they have since its opening on October 17, 1917, when the country was preparing to enter World War I.
And, as it has since its founding, its personnel still develop countermeasures for chemical warfare.
The facility also maintains the very 21st-century communications and cyberspace networks and equipment through the work of the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR), according to Taylor. He explains that this program, begun early in the 2000s, keeps the networks and communications humming for some 16,000 people all around the world. “That’s a pretty big deal,” he says.
Taylor also notes APG’s economic impact on the surrounding community, which totals some $6.5 billion. “That’s the result of 27,000 people working, living and retiring in Aberdeen,” he says.
As commander of CECOM and head of the regional Army Contracting Command, Taylor recognizes the many defense contractors with whom they work. In April each year, the Advance Planning Briefing to Industry offers local businesses the opportunity to learn what services and products CECOM will need in the coming months.
Taylor says he is grateful for the trust and the support of the surrounding community.
“War is a very dangerous business,” he says. “There’s a lot of risk in war.”
That has made research into safety for soldiers and civilians an important task at APG, according to Taylor. While the geography of the base mitigates some of the risk, much more is needed.
“Munitions and chemicals grew up here,” Taylor says. While some experts are researching various kinds of weaponry, their colleagues are studying the next new weapon that might be facing American soldiers. That has meant producing countermeasures, antidotes and protection systems.
“The best people you could ask for to mitigate the risks are right here in the community,” he says.
While Taylor admits that chemicals and weapons weren’t always disposed of properly, the Army had developed ways to respond to new reports. “We know exactly what to do,” he says, noting that there has been no injury or casualty in recent years.
Improper disposal of toxic waste is a problem nationwide, he notes. “Our teams here go to all those places and retrieve that stuff and dispose of it properly,” he says.
When chemical weapons used by Syria in 2013 needed to be destroyed, Aberdeen personnel were called in to create the means for incinerating the material aboard a ship.
“The people who manage this risk only exist here,” Taylor says.
Young Randy Taylor didn’t come from a military family. He grew up in Ohio, the oldest of seven children. His father worked at the Ford plant and his mother was a homemaker. He had never considered life as a soldier.
Then a friend from a military family told him about men jumping out of airplanes.
“I was hooked before I knew it,” he recalls.
It made him give the U.S Army a closer look. He enlisted while still in college, ultimately joining the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). He transferred from SUNY and graduated from the University of Maryland as an infantry officer.
In the 1980s, joining the Army wasn’t a popular decision. Taylor recalls a number of unpleasant anti-military demonstrations on his college campus.
But he still believed it was the right decision for him. “I was so into seeing the world and the Army seemed like the perfect fit,” he says.
Now, 30 years later, he’s seen the world, commanded soldiers across the globe and jumped out of airplanes – even serving as a jump master at Fort Bragg.
Just when he was thinking about retirement, he was selected for promotion to general. “I’m still pinching myself,” he says.
After returning to Fort Bragg as a newly commissioned general, he served three years in the Pentagon.
Taylor once thought he’d spend about four years in the Army before moving on. But with each new moment of decision, he says he would reflect and rededicate his commitment to what he was doing. “This is what I want to be doing,” he says.
When the general isn’t at work, it’s likely he’s near or around the water. The proximity of the Chesapeake Bay was one of the reasons he was attracted to the area.
He and his husband, Lucas, usually spend time on their paddleboards before jumping in the car to explore one of the many local bayside towns. He enjoys sailing and scuba diving as well.
“This feels like a vacation spot,” he says. “The living is easy. This is one of the lowest-stress places we’ve lived.” I95
A Century of InnovationAberdeen Proving Ground was founded October 17, 1917, to begin testing (proving) ordnance before soldiers were sent to the front in World War I, according to Jeff Smart, APG’s historian.
The Army’s proving ground in Sandy Hook in New Jersey was too small and in an inconvenient location, near the entrance of New York City’s harbor, Smart says. When the United States joined the Allies in World War I, a new location was needed, he says.
Kent Island was the initial choice but residents there disagreed. “They fought it,” Smart says.
The two peninsulas in Harford County were selected in summer of 1917 and operations began in October. “They fired their first shot in January,” he says.
Also in 1917, the decision was made to produce chemical weapons.
“When we entered the war in 1917, we weren’t prepared for chemical warfare,” Smart says.
By July 1918, the Edgewood site was spun off as the Chemical Warfare Service, which stayed open until 1971 when the two facilities were merged as Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Edgewood Arsenal, as the facility became known, had two missions by the end of World War I: chemical testing and production of gas masks.
Chemical weapons research and development continued on the south campus while artillery and vehicle testing continued on the north campus.
“Edgewood Arsenal became the Army’s center of research and development for everything chemical,” Smart says. “It continues to do that today.”
Now, however, the site produces no new chemical weapons, according to Smart.
Instead, the focus is on equipment to detect toxic chemicals, as well as products used in riot control such as tear gas and smoke. Research also continues on ways to protect soldiers from such chemicals, including protective gear and antidotes. “The technology is a lot more complicated that it would first appear,” Smart says.
APG has attracted some heavy hitters to work on its projects. “Definitely we’ve had some of the best minds – engineers and scientists – working at Aberdeen Proving Ground,” he says.
Renowned astrophysicist Edwin Hubble served at Aberdeen during World War II as head of ballistics. Wind tunnels created while he was there attracted the interest of officials in the American space program. “Our wind tunnels were so good NASA started using them, says Smart, who noted they were used to test rockets in the space program’s early days.
NASA officials stopped by to take a look at wind tunnels created at Aberdeen, Smart says.
Walt Disney came to help design a gas mask that children wouldn’t be afraid to wear. The result was a Mickey Mouse mask, Smart says.
Early research into vehicles that could handle wartime conditions led to development of the modern-day Jeep, he adds.
As warfare has changed, so has the research and testing at APG. This includes protection against land mines and IEDs, chemical weapons terrorists might use and cybersecurity – all with the goal of providing soldiers with the best equipment.
“It’s not just testing weapons anymore. It’s far beyond that,” he says. “Though it’s changed over the years, it’s still the very same mission.”