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Where is the Golden Rule?
As early as pre-school and kindergarten we are all taught the Golden Rule of do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Simple manners and consideration are also great lessons fostered in our youth. Unfortunately, as some grow into adults those simple lessons are soon forgotten.
Ask any of the adjacent property owners to the proposed Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) site and they will be able to give you detailed examples.
Personally, I can account for many. My first concern is the arrogance of the GSA/Department of State as they seem to be giving no weight to nor consideration of the Ruthsburg citizens' opposition as they carry a "business as usual" Mindset and continue to move forward with this project even though the environmental assessment (EA) and/or the environmental impact statement (EIS) have not yet been completed.
My next slap in the face came when a Department of State "suit" had given our situation a lot of thought and had finally come up with a possible indirect benefit to us (his words). He said that by "...taking one for the team..." perhaps someone I knew could possibly benefit from the FASTC. I was so stunned by the insensitivity of this statement that I was at a loss for words.
Now I would hope that my opinions and facts that I share with your readers would not be held against me by the GSA/DS. Freedom of speech, right? So I am sure that it was purely a case of error and perhaps disregard that EVERY adjacent property owner; especially those who were on the previous tour to Sykesville that I wrote about earlier, were notified BOTH by email and by personal phone call about the explosive demonstration scheduled for March 15th at 11:00 am EXCEPT FOR US. Probably just a mistake that we were not included in the notification either way. That's what they told me when I brought it to their attention. Of course when it happened again when they failed to send us a confirmation but sent it to all the others, I started to grow very concerned. They had sent us other things and called us in the past. How can we be expected to trust them with 45 caliber machine guns, bomb blasts and environmental mitigation in our community when they cannot even handle a simple phone list of a few dozen people? This does not instill confidence.
As if the above examples are not enough, in my opinion, the biggest display of disrespect has to be the short notice given to my neighbors when the latest tour scheduled for March 15th was postponed due to rain though we were told the tour would take place rain or shine. We were to board the bus at 11:00 am and several residents took the day off of work for this believing that it was a sure event that would not be cancelled or changed. Though the decision to postpone the tour was made before 8:30 that morning, my neighbors were not notified by the FASTC Team until 10:00 and 10:30. Some were actually about to walk out the door when they received the notice. Those who took the day off, had they known earlier, could have gone to work and not lost a day of pay.
I bring this all to your attention because unless you are living it, you would NEVER know what is going on. I imagine that you would think like so many others, that people just DON'T treat others with such disregard, disrespect, arrogance and insensitivity - that is what we are taught early on.
It is my hope that by pointing this out, perhaps this will change. Every person should be treated with common courtesy and empathy. As is evidenced above, this sadly is not the case.
SYKESVILLE VS RUTHSBURG - SIMILAR?
As the cold rain falls at 7:45 in the morning and the frigid air blows mercilessly in the Ruthsburg Community center parking lot, we wait for the GSA/Dpt of State people to arrive to take us on what is supposed to be a tour of a similar facility to the proposed FASTC - The MD Public Safety Education and Training Center (PSETC) in Sykesville, Md. Before we leave the parking lot we are told that there will be NO explosions demonstrated today and handed yet another white, glossy, embossed folder with premium pages of "info" about the Sykesville Academy. Yet another waste of taxpayer's dollars.
As the bus we are on climbs the huge hill to get there, you can hear the engine lugging and I laugh as I think of The Little Engine That Could. We pull in and my first thought is this is NOTHING like Ruthsburg. The hills, valleys and natural terrain are so far from that of home - similar?
We get off the bus and go into a classroom where two instructors give us a rundown of what they do there as far as training and tell us that they receive few phone calls in reference to the noise. We ask questions and find that they set off maybe two explosions per year less than 3 pounds, there are NO armored vehicles, there is NO mock urban warfare zone and they have maybe 18 employees - similar?
The lead "instructor", Mr. Liebno, is to be our tour guide today and we board the bus again to see the facility. First, are the driving tracks. As you look around you see lots of paved roads with intersections, stop signs, arrows etc just like anywhere you drive pretty much but you don't see ANY cars. I thought we were here to get an idea of what will be going on at the FASTC driving tracks, not see a ghost town - NO CARS!? We ask if they can put someone on the track for us and our tour guide says "sure."
After a few minutes of standing in the cold at the side of the "high speed" track, two police cars fly by us at about 70 mph on the straight-away then circle around and come back up the hill to stop in front of us. Our thoughts; we can see that on 50/301 anytime. There were no screeching tires, no brakes .... Hmmm - similar? We asked Mr. Liebno about this and he tells us that it is quite costly to go through all that rubber and wear and tear on the car and adds that the smell from those maneuvers makes him sick to his stomach. What a colossal disappointment. We were NOT impressed.
The only thing left is their firing range since there is NO mock urban warfare zone and NO explosives - not even flash bangs. These are 25 yard and 50 yard ranges that have concrete flooring with 3 concrete walls and what looks like waffling aluminum roofing. There are 3 men shooting 9mm pistols and one 12 gauge shot gun. We are told that we cannot get off the bus without ear protection. Guns blazing on the 50 yard range made it impossible to hold a conversation even with the person sitting next to you on the bus.
We wanted to hear it from outside so they took us uphill 300 feet from the range and we got off the bus. After a moment or two they started firing the pistols and the sound was horrendous! The 9mm pistols blasted away and we were devastated to think we would be hearing this all day long not to mention it was only three guys NOT the 20 - 30 students proposed for the FASTC. Some actually jumped at the blast of the 12 gauge. These were not even the larger weaponry; I.e., 45 cal machine guns - again, similar? Totally unacceptable!!
So to summarize:
I went, I saw, I wasted an entire day. I am sure that when Senator Mikulski suggested this, she actually meant it should be a site that was ACTUALLY similar so we could get a feel for what it will really be like at the FASTC.
They had weeks to prepare for this, months even. I, and I am sure the others, expected tires squealing, cars racing around, braking, circling on the skid pads - lots of action; dozens of shooters blasting 45 caliber machine guns NOT pistols; explosions/flash bangs; even a hostage situation at the mock urban warfare zone. What we got........yet another COLOSSAL government disappointment.
This letter was sent to Congressman Kratovil in response to his article/ guest comment in the paper March 21, 2010.
Dear Mr. Kratovil,
After months and months of requests, sending email after email and going to your Centreville office on several occasions, we finally hear from our Congressman, Frank Kratovil. Mind you, the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) issue has been "public" for several months now.
Now that we have heard from you, I have a few points to bring to your attention...
POINT: You state that
the Queen Annes County Commissioners are the ones who brought this to your
attention and asked for your support.
POINT: You state "Over
the next few weeks, I worked closely with members of Maryland Congressional
Delegation, Governor Martin O'Malley and local officials and residents
to support the county's bid."
POINT: You further
state "After the Queen Anne County Commissioners voted to withdraw support
of the project, I stated that I would consult with the county commissioners,
other local elected officials and area residents in making my own judgement
on the project."
POINT: You use the
verbiage that the local officials are strongly supportive.
POINT: You state your
"staff" has been to every public FASTC meeting.
In addition, I would like to add how appalled I was when your "staff" while in your Centreville office referred to the NUMEROUS letters the Ruthsburg citizens have spent hours composing to you, OUR ELECTED OFFICIAL, as "form letters"! As well as being insulted, it also proved to us that apparently NO ONE including yourself is bothering to read them! Furthermore, how can your "staff" convey to you what we have to say when they did not take down one note nor one comment that was made by roughly 30 of your constituents at our last visit to your office? Was any of your "staff" able to let you know how truly upset I was when I was told by the Department of State that I should just "take one for the team" or is this the first you have heard about it?
On March 10th, the Queen Anne County Commissioners sent you a letter asking for a town hall meeting with your Ruthsburg constituents and we too have practically pleaded to you for the same. Have you scheduled this yet? It has been two weeks now.
Mr Kratovil, I am deeply disappointed in the manner of which you have handled this entire debacle. I would hope that you would at the very least show the decency to meet with the residents of Ruthsburg immediately since this is an "important initiative" to use your own words.
Thus far, NONE of your Ruthsburg constituents have received a personal response from you other than a "canned email (identical and automatic). I now await your response (I would hope not canned ) in reference to my counterpoints and our personal invitation to you.
This letter was sent to Congressman Kratovil in response to his article/ guest comment in the paper March 21, 2010.
This is God's country; let's keep it that way.
The topic of the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) has dominated our lives and our household for three months now and rightfully so. I can't remember the last time I or my husband got a good night's sleep. Our daughter moved out on her own recently and we hardly see her. Our son is a senior in high school this year and while dinner conversation should revolve around caps & gowns, graduation parties and college plans, it speaks more of bomb explosions and gun fire. Through all this turmoil; however, I have found two wonderful outcomes I am always the one to find the silver lining.
The first is the wonderful friends we have made recently. They have been blessings from God and I can guarantee that these relationships will remain steadfast. It is rare that you find someone who is willing to drop everything to come to your aid and is willing to stand toe to toe with you through the most vicious of storms (and this facility ranks high on the Fujita and Richter scales), let alone a group of hundreds. These individuals, too numerous to name, don't put money above the welfare of those in their community. They are the TRUE meaning of community.
The second is that I see the area, really see the area, I have taken for granted. My husband LOVES the outdoors- hiking, fishing, camping, hunting, kayaking, you name it. Me, my idea of roughing it is a two star hotel. Opposites; but today and this weekend I saw it for the first time....the exquisite beauty of this area.
There had to be at least 200 people visiting and utilizing Tuckahoe State Park this weekend. All walks of life fishing catching perch, bass and all manners of aquatic life. Then there were the young families playing at the playground and enjoying their first picnic of the year. Walking and biking trails were filled with young and old alike. EVERY ONE of these individuals was so upset at the thought of the HARD SKILLS facility. I remember thinking to myself, Wow! What a tragedy it would be for this to change.
Today we went for a drive around the perimeter of the site and my breath was actually taken away as I was able to shoot several pictures of a majestic bald eagle "having breakfast" within three feet of our position. He looked up at us but allowed us to stay. As we watched in wonder, I noticed the total peace of the area and realized what I had taken for granted. I tried to picture the same scene with bombs exploding and the sound of screeching tires - the smell of exhaust...I felt a lump in my throat.
We left the bald eagle to enjoy and continued down the road maybe less than a minute away and saw a farm with an open field where there were what looked like swans enjoying the beauty of the day. Swans in the middle of a field?! The rain and the melted snow had caused the field to "flood" but the geese and a few swans did not seem to care. Again I got out the camera to capture the moment.
How can anyone even consider putting a HARD SKILLS facility among all this beauty that God has created? We are so blessed here on the eastern shore to have all of this right here. Let's face it, it would NEVER be the same. The thought of not having this anymore for my future grand children to experience and enjoy is heart-breaking.
Though I may not have seen it before, my eyes are open now. God has given us these precious gifts and we will protect them with all that we have. We will continue to fight for the wildlife that call this their home; for the elderly who aren't on time schedules and can stroll peacefully and at their leisure; for the fishermen, hikers and bikers who find and/or make time for a little rest and relaxation; and for the children who are our future and are entitled to all that God has to give. I've said it before and I will say it again, this is God's country and we need to keep it that way.
Act II - Bomb Detonation
As the curtain goes up on the latest Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) "show" the air is filled with high winds and the hopes that this will not be yet another wasted day voiced by the Ruthsburg residents. Many of the regular players are present but are now joined by those who were unable to attend the last show as well as the introduction of two new role players, a representative of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy and the media have been invited to join us on this adventure. This is a bit of a surprise since our first invitation to this said no media, then the second one said no media pass the first gate and now they are to be on the full tour - inconsistent to say the least, but we are used to that by now.
The opposite players, namely the Department of State (DS), are also present and in costume this time. They don jeans, sweaters, shades, etc. Their part is to play "one of the gang".
Our mode of transportation is more of a luxury bus this time complete with on-board facilities. It's a good thing as the two hour; one-way drive can wear on the human body. As we board the vehicle, we are handed a brown paper lunch bag. Inside is a bottle of water and a light snack. Along with our sack they have also prepared three sheets of paper that each person receives. No glossy white folders or more expensive card stock this time. Could it be they read my previous thoughts on the last trip? The pages include a synopsis of what the "show" will entail. The first states that "sound levels can vary depending on atmospheric conditions, natural vegetation, topography..." hmmmmmm, I'll bet that includes the 20-25 mph winds like we are facing today. The second and third pages of our "program" break down which charges will be set off and at what intervals. Nowhere does it list what chemicals are involved. We are told later to look it up on the computer.
After driving almost two hours toward our final destination, we make a stop to pick up more of "the gang" also in costume. I wonder why they didn't want to ride with us for two hours this time. One key player is still missing but we find out later that he is already at the site preparing the next scene. The rules are explained of no camera equipment, no electronics and specifically we are told no sound measurement equipment. I wonder why not?
We continue on our way and notice the terrain getting hilly and we are driving through a densely wooded area on both sides of the road. We drive and we drive and we drive all the while seeing lots of mature woods. Finally we come up to a security gate, go through and then drive and drive and drive through more woods then stop at a security fence. We continue on the dirt road where we come to an opening and see massive satellite dishes on one side of the road and are now joined by an escort. We continue to drive and drive and drive - have we seen ANY houses, no we have not - through more and more woods when it finally opens up to a field and we see one tank, then two tanks with the woods showing as backdrops on these huge vehicles. We drive a little more and I think about how immense this property is and at that point the bus slows to a stop.
We get off the bus and are met by the final key player who has been setting the stage. We are told to stand behind the bus where the detonation site is set up and that we are .6 miles from the site. There is a berm area between us and the explosion. The statement is made to the feds that their "brochure" says that different factors such as cloud cover, topography, wind etc can vary sound levels, so is it fair to say that if the wind wasn't blowing at ~25 mph and it was not a cloudy day that there would be an increase in sound? The DS representative answers that he is not going to answer that. Its okay, we already know. The wind is blowing strongly in the other direction and we ask if we can go down to the other side of the detonation site (down-wind) so it is more accurate to what we would actually experience, but we are not answered - the stage is already set.
As we look around we see men with big microphones and set up with tripods at the site. Are they recording for the environmental assessment (EA)? We should have asked. The cue is given and the first blast is set off: below is a table showing the type of charge, the sound level I personally rated it (1 lowest and 10 loudest) and the frequency of how many per year are planned for Ruthsburg:
*NOTE: This was set at .6 miles but the closest homes are only .2 miles from detonation area so it would be 3 times closer and therefore three times louder.
1) CTS Flash Bang 3.0 1,000 plus
2) 2 oz black powder 3.5 312
3) 300 grain letter bomb 4. ?????
4) 1200 grains 6.0 ?????
5) 8 oz Dyno AP 7.0 493
6) 8 oz Pentolite 8.5 493
We now board the bus again. The Ruthsburg players are all saying much the same thing...."can you imagine how much louder it is going to be without the wind and clouds? What about those who live three times closer than is demonstrated here?" The bus pulls a few hundred feet forward and we stop at approximately 3/4 mile from the detonation site. Again we get off the bus and can still see the berm up ahead. The men are there with their microphones - hmmmmm, they too are in street clothes; come to think of it, for such a high security army installation, the only sign of military presence was the tanks. I guess they couldn't have a wardrobe change. Interesting how much staging was put into this show.
We are now ready for the next three shots:
1) 1 pound of C4 in 5 gal bucket of water 9.0 54
2) 2 pound of C4 in 5 gal bucket of water 10.0 ?????
3) 3 pound of C4 in 5 gal bucket of water 12.0 6
Even though we were expecting it you couldn't help but jump. I have lived in Ruthsburg for 10 years and have never heard anything this loud...and they say it is comparable to a shot gun blast? I'd hate to see their shot gun.
Back on the bus on to the third and final stop. Once again we drive and drive and drive through the dense, mature woods. Do these woods ever stop? I try to see something through the trees but only see more trees. We finally stop and once again disembark. You can hear what everyone is saying...."we're so far away now with 2 miles of trees and vegetation between us that we won't hear anything anyway." The cue is given and a 1/2 pound charge of Pentolite is set off. We listen closely and hear the voice on the walkie-talkie say "detonation complete". Shoulders slump and heads drop in frustration when....there it is, you hear it - delayed reaction. The surprise of all that you can hear it so loudly is seen in everyone's faces. Even through all the "blockage" it is still a loud, disruptive presence to the otherwise quiet scene. Okay, here comes the final shot - 3 pounds of C4 in a 5 gal bucket of water. Again we hear the voice say "detonation complete" approximately 6 seconds or so later the reverberation gets through the approximate 2 miles of deep forest and all other "blockers" to us. The rumble is indescribable and many believe it is actually louder at this distance of 3 miles with the berms than it was at the 3/4 mile distance. Unfortunately, we have no way of confirming that what we just heard was an identical bomb to what they set off at the three-quarter mile site. It was staged before we ever got there.
We are told that that concludes the show and we once again take our seats. Everyone talks of nothing but their concerns as we continue to drive and drive and drive through the woods - by the way, I know that the GSA said that they would have a barrier of 300 feet of vegetation, but it occurs to me that this is in no comparison: 2 miles compared to 300 feet and these trees are all mature and the area is densely forested. This place is so far off the radar even the representative from Senator Cardin's office who grew up here is totally unaware of this installation's existence. We finally come out to the street and civilization again and continue our two hour trek home.
Not once in this entire almost 6 hour show did I hear a Ruthsburg resident say "that's not so bad" or”maybe it will be okay".
At least this time it was not a waste of our day. Today's show was important and I for one thank Senator Mikulski for having the DS take us there. It helped all the Ruthsburg residents who attended to understand that their fears are DEFINITELY GROUNDED AND SUBSTANTIATED. From all views and comments of the community, this Aberdeen II does not belong in Ruthsburg. It is time to close the curtain on this production.
Be sure to read the News
item regarding the La Plata FASTC "demonstration".
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