New Fort Meade commander talks touchstones, marriage and managing the pandemic
Col. Christopher M. Nyland is a self-described introvert whose previous assignments in the Army included the Pentagon and United Nations Command Security Battalion Joint Security Area in the Republic of Korea. The new commander of Fort Meade covered an array of topics in a phone interview Wednesday. Nyland replaced outgoing commander Erich C. Spragg. who had been garrison commander at Fort Meade for two years. Col. Spragg's next duty station will be in Quantico, VA where he will serve as the Army Chair of the United States Marine Corps War College. Col. Nyland was previously at the Pentagon as the Military Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. Reflecting on his change in duties, Nyland said one of its biggest benefits may not only be in the opportunity to head Fort Meade, but also the opportunity to serve at the same location as his wife, Christy, who is commander of the base’s Army Field Support Center. “The best part about being selected for this job was that I get to continue to serve with my wife,” he said. “My wife's also an Army colonel. Most of the time when you get to this level you expect to be separated. But for us, this was a major success story for the Married Army Couples Program, and we're very grateful for that. “You know, you hear a lot of senior leaders talking about balance. The Nyland family, we've got our own balance calculations. We may work some long hours, we may have some tough and challenging jobs at times, but for us balance is about leaving work at work. If you have to work long hours, that's fine, But when you come home you're home, and you're present.” Nyland’s been in the Army 23 years, where he started out in the Infantry. He became a Ranger in the 82nd Airborne and graduated the new Jumpmaster Course, Air Assault School, Military Freefall Jumpmaster School, Reconnaissance and Surveillance Leaders Course, and the Infantry Mortar Leaders Course. He also is a graduate of the University of Washington, Col. Nyland holds a Master of Science degree in National Resource Strategy from the Eisenhower School, National Defense University. He has done two tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.
He said he is humbled and honored to hold his new position. He took time at the change of command ceremony August 18 to say that he was proud to be part of Team Meade. Nyland also recognized the leadership of his predecessor. “Col. Spragg is a hard person to follow, because he did a great job here,” he said. “It’s easier to follow someone who hadn’t necessarily done a good job because you can only go up from there. But I will tell you, you know, all the feedback I've gotten --from the residents, the partners the community, the senior leadership-- is that he absolutely knocked it out of the park here. So I'm looking to continue to reinforce the things that he did well.” One of the issues that continues to confront Fort Meade is the coronavirus pandemic. Nyland said his attitude toward addressing the pandemic has changed since it started, “I think we tended to look at it like an operation,” he reflected. “ It was going to have a definitive start date, it was going to have a definitive end date. We went all in. We really tried to get after it so that we could protect everyone and continue the mission.” But the Army no longer believes the coronavirus threat will be neutralized by the fall. The colonel said his public health officer told him the problem could remain well into next year. “Now as a commander that prompts me to think of two things,” he said. “One of them is how do we continue our mission in the long term under COVID conditions versus approaching COVID as an operation? “(Also) anytime you spend a significant amount of time under strenuous condition--like having to constantly be vigilant with things like masks and distance and hygiene--over time complacency starts to set in. As a leader, not only do you have to set the example in what you're doing, but you also have to be the one that's doing the harder (work) of encouraging everyone to continue doing those tough things. Be the one that's constantly talking about it and constantly reminding people about it. Those are the things that we're looking at right now as far as getting the base out the other end of it on the pandemic.” When asked, Nyland revealed over the years the bedrock traits that he has come to believe make him a good. effective Soldier have evolved as his career has advanced. Those touchstones that have served him as he served the country have changed as he’s had more time to examine them. “I will tell you if you would have asked Captain Nyland that, or Major Nyland that, he would have spouted off three things in a heartbeat--that was discipline, loyalty, and trust. Those are incredibly important things to hold together infantry organizations and to help them overcome the challenges that they face. “I got a year in the War College a couple years ago, and I got a chance to do some reflecting. The War College is really about a transition from being a tactical and operational leader to being a strategic leader. It kind of goes (to) the phrase, ‘What got you here is not necessarily going to get you there.’ "My mind changed. What I really use as my touchstones now have more to do with teamwork, more to do with communication, more to do with inclusion and treating everyone with dignity and respect.” But the components of being a successful military leader remain intertwined he believes. He was meeting with the base’s workforce leadership group for the first time Tuesday, and said he started the meeting with recognizing that he would need to earn their trust. He expects to do that through transparency and good communication. When he’s not attending meetings, leading the garrison, or otherwise serving, Col. Nyland is big on enjoying life with his wife as well as checking out science fiction. “When afforded the opportunity to take leave, take leave and get away,” he advised. “We love traveling. When you're traveling together, that is a lot of intense together time. I think we try to make up for some of the long hours when we are not together. “We really enjoy traveling internationally...experiencing other cultures, meeting people from different countries. One of the greatest things about spending three years in Korea was we traveled all around Southeast Asia .We experienced a bunch of different cultures over there. It was a lot of fun for us.” But the big question that’s on every reader’s mind: Star Trek or Star Wars? “If I was forced to say one or the other, Star Wars was my true love, and I grew to appreciate Star Trek over time,” Nyland said.