By Ed Brock
When the fanfare dies down after today's change of command ceremony at Army Garrison Fort McPherson, Col. Harold E. Cooney will be looking forward to his last command before retirement.
And he'll be looking back at three years of command over Fort McPherson in Atlanta and Fort Gillem in Forest Park ? three years of cultivating the relationship between the forts and the civilian communities that surround them.
"I think that relationship has been strengthened and I've tried to be the leader of the good neighbor movement," Cooney said.
At 10 a.m. today Cooney will hand over command of and responsibility for the forts' 600 assigned soldiers, 9,800 attached personnel and 51,000 retirees and their families to 49-year-old Col. Angela Maria Manos. Manos, who will be the garrison's first female commander, is assuming the position fresh from the Army's War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania where she was in the Command and General Staff College.
Her last duty assignment was with the National Military Command Center in The Pentagon.
Cooney will take command of the 78th Training and Support Division in New Jersey.
During his command, 51-year-old Cooney recreated the Child and Youth Services Organization, established a Youth Action Counsel on post for children and teens at both forts and coordinated the largest Secondary Education Transition Study partnership agreement in the Department of Defense with eight metro-Atlanta school superintendents.
Cooney also expanded the long-standing partnerships between the forts and East Point and Forest Park to include new partnerships with College Park and Morrow.
"He's always been there for the commitment partnerships," Forest Park Mayor Chuck Hall said. "We hate to see Col. Cooney go but I know the military and military life."
Hall said he hopes the relationship between the military and civilian communities will continue to grow under Manos' command.
That relationship did suffer some after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"We had great plans to open the base to more people, to become more integrated with the community," Cooney said. "Then suddenly with Sept. 11 that all went down the tubes."
Now the fort's commander will have to balance the need for tight security with remaining open to the community, Cooney said.
"I think the nation knows we're never going back to where we were before," Cooney said.
Another challenge facing Manos will be the ongoing transformation of the Army into a lighter, more mobile force. That transformation will affect military installations on all levels, not just the tactical Army.
"That will be our struggle for the next couple of years is to get that right," Cooney said.
The fact that Manos will be the first woman to command the base will not be a challenge, Cooney said.
"Having a woman in command is nothing new," Cooney said. "That's the good thing about the Army, we get color blind real fast."
As for his next command, Cooney said he's looking forward to it.
"It'll be an good assignment," Cooney said. "It will put me in the part of the country where I'll be retiring."
Cooney's son and daughter live in the area. And as for what he will do after retiring next year, Cooney does have some plans.
"I'm looking seriously at what's available to work with kids," said Cooney, who has earned the nickname of the "Education Mayor" of the forts. "You've got to stay busy. Those who don't don't last long."