- Associated Press - Friday, August 22, 2014

ABERDEEN, Md. (AP) - The new senior commander at Aberdeen Proving Ground said Friday that stronger ties between the Army installation and the surrounding community could help avert large job cuts at the sprawling research and weapons-testing post near Baltimore.

Maj. Gen. Bruce T. Crawford told reporters he’s reaching out to small businesses and inviting the private sector to consider Aberdeen a partner in job creation.

Crawford, who arrived in May, also said it’s important for the civilian population to express support for military missions and gratitude for those serving their country, whether in uniform or as civilian Defense Department workers.

“They need to know that you’re with them through thick and thin and they need to know that you trust them and that you still believe in them,” Crawford said.

An Army report last month raised the possibility that Aberdeen could lose up to 4,300 military and civilian jobs by 2020 due to cuts in budget and force size. About 21,800 people work at the installation, including about 13,000 in the Communications-Electronic Command led by Crawford. The unit includes a software engineering center that manages 70 percent of the Army’s computer software, he said.

Crawford touted the command’s 3,000 workers with engineering degrees, including some with doctorates. He said their expertise is available to private industry looking to modernize the computer systems that protect their intellectual capital.

“We can’t be connected enough now, whether it’s at home or at work or our ability to defend those networks,” Crawford said. “We are piece of the broader enterprise - those that have the job of defending networks - but we are an important piece.”

Karen Holt of the Chesapeake Science and Security Corridor, a group formed by Harford County to help the region accommodate growth from a 2005 military realignment, said she was excited about Crawford’s initiatives.

“I think small business is certainly an area of interest across our community,” she said.