By Christian Pelusi
FORT BELVOIR, VA. — The USO broke ground today on its first domestic Warrior and Family Center in Fort Belvoir, Va., to care for our nation’s returning service men and women as they cope and recover from injuries incurred in battle.
The centers are being built for wounded warriors and their families and will host troops, husbands, wives, children, parents, brothers and sisters – everyone important to recovery – and offer a homelike environment to receive the training, education and job placement services needed to move forward in life. The Fort Belvoir center is slated to open in Fall 2012.
“This event is more than just a groundbreaking ceremony for a new USO center,” said USO President Sloan Gibson. “It will be built here as a symbol of America’s commitment to our wounded warriors and their families, to all of them around the world, supporting them as they recover and take the next step in their lives.
“The USO’s mission is to lift the spirits of America’s troops and their families. When we ask the simple question who needs us most, in today’s operating environment, clearly, our wounded warriors and their families [are] at the top of the list.”
Today’s groundbreaking initiates the public phase of the USO program Operation Enduring Care, a $100 million capital fundraising campaign: $25 million will be allocated to build two new Wounded Warrior and Family Centers (Fort Belvoir and Bethesda, Md.); $50 million will support ongoing programs at the centers and worldwide and $25 million will endow the two centers.
Gibson said the centers "will be a place where families of wounded warriors can be together as families, away from the hospital environment. A place where they can enjoy a home-cooked meal together, where children can play. A place of respite, where they can relax in meditation rooms. And a place to begin to work toward the future, through continuing education programs offered in the learning center. And in the business center, they’ll be able to deal with any [administrative issues] that does not go away, even though their lives may have been turned upside down.”
The center will be run by the experienced staff and volunteers of the USO of Metropolitan Washington D.C., who have been working with wounded warriors for over a decade.
“Metro D.C. USO’s a vital part of activities at Fort Belvoir, supporting the growing troop and family population,” Gibson said. “USO Metro is also very engaged at Walter Reed in Bethesda, [Md.,] as well as with the warrior transition units here at Fort Belvoir and at Fort Meade [Md.]. … USO Metro demonstrates day-in and day-out America’s gratitude for the service and sacrifice of troops and their families.”
The USO has been lifting the spirits of troops and military families for more than 70 years. While this mission has not changed, the USO continues to adapt to meet the changing needs of our troops and families, especially our wounded warriors.
“Supporting the troops has to be more than a slogan,” Gibson said. “It has to be reflected in action. Especially for those who have suffered the visible and invisible wounds of war. While this center will not provide medical care, it will nonetheless be a place of healing.
“Our goal is to help those who sacrifice so much, move from the battlefield to a happy and fulfilling future. And this center is a key component in that effort.”
Colonel John J. Strycula, Garrison Commander at Fort Belvoir, agreed.
“This center will be an important cog in our proven concept of soldier and family center care and recovery,” he said. “The family center will accelerate our heroes and their families’ recovery process and help them embrace the future.
“But this center will be much more than a physical structure. It will also become a place where our warriors and their families can find solace and peace and help in the recovery process … True and complete healing encompasses physical, emotional, social, spiritual and family healing.”
USO Board of Governors Chairman and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers, USAF (Ret.), relayed a story about General George C. Marshall and his response to the question: What is the most important element of a military’s fighting capability? Gen. Marshall responded: “Morale.”
“And that’s what the USO is all about,” Gen. Myers said. “And that’s what this center’s going to be all about: the morale of the force.
“We, the country, do a good job of honoring our military. But we need to go further than just honoring. We owe it to those who served … to do things like this. … Morale makes a difference. We’re talking about changing and nurturing attitudes to allow folks that have been severely wounded or in the hospital for whatever reason to get back on their feet and to contribute to this great country.”
To further the General’s point, Congressional Rep. Jim Moran (D – Va.) discussed how soldiers returning from battle are true survivors and that “survival” has taken on new meaning.
“Real survivability is not just extending someone’s ability to stand and breathe. Real survivability is enabling them to continue to fulfill their full potential as human beings. So it’s not just the body. It’s the mind and the spirit. … This facility is about going one step further; it’s about restoring the soul.”
For Congressional Rep. Gerald Connolly (D – Va.), it is “the nobility of the families providing support, even in difficult times” that draws much of his admiration.
“What we’re doing today is not just a groundbreaking. But it is renewing and rededicating ourselves to that commitment [of the families] and to the men and women who put on that uniform and serve their country so that we can stay free and our democracy remain vital.”
The center’s design, developed by Huffman Development and Scott Long Construction and designed by STUDIOS Architecture, was based on research, surveys and focus groups to determine the needs of wounded warriors while also focusing on the Warrior and Family Support Center in San Antonio, Texas. The USO and STUDIOS Architecture conducted hundreds of interviews with wounded warriors (including members of the Reserve and Guard), their families, military medical professionals and staff, community groups and subject matter experts in the care of wounded, ill and injured warriors.
The USO has received support for Operation Enduring Care from a group of partners who have contributed private donor gifts, corporate donations, foundation grants and in-kind support from suppliers and contractors. Those key partners include: Northrop Grumman, The Anschutz Family Foundation, Lowe’s, News Corporation, AMA and Sue Timken, Anheuser-Busch, and P&G.
Gibson has said regarding Operation Enduring Care: “The people this campaign aims to assist aren't the kind to ask for help. They've always taken care of themselves and taken care of others, and they've asked for nothing in return. But now it's their turn to need care and support and encouragement. We know that Americans want to make sure wounded warriors get all those things and more. That's what Operation Enduring Care is all about. That's why we're asking for contributions."
The target date for completion of the Fort Belvoir center is late 2012 and the groundbreaking for the second stateside Warrior and Family Center at Bethesda’s new Walter Reed Hospital is slated for 2012.
Make a donation to Operation Enduring Care.