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Troops' Futures Are Focus of New USO Warrior and Family Center's Learning Center

Friday, February 01, 2013

By Eric Brandner 

They will come to heal. They will come to relax. And they will come to learn.

The USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va. – the largest USO center ever constructed – will host its grand opening Tuesday afternoon. The center sits in the shadow of Fort Belvoir Community Hospital and is the most significant structural demonstration to date of the USO’s evolving mission to help wounded, ill and injured troops and their families and caregivers.

Most of the troops assigned to the Fort Belvoir Warrior Transition Unit are receiving treatment for invisible wounds of war – conditions like post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. Like all USO centers, the new building on Fort Belvoir will provide a place for them to kick back and relax away from their barracks room. But it will also address their No. 1 request: A place to plan for life after the military.

“We will provide troops and families with some of the tools they’ll need to move on to the next stage of their lives,” USO President Sloan Gibson wrote in a recent letter to donors.

The USO went to great lengths to ensure the Fort Belvoir center met the needs of America’s recovering troops. During the conception stage, the USO included a subset of questions in its annual Tell USO Survey aimed at discovering the needs of wounded, ill and injured troops who will be using the center. Their top desire was to have access to “online college and professional development classes.”

They’re getting that – and a lot more.

Spanning nearly 1,800 square feet, the Learning Center inside the USO Warrior and Family Center is divided into four rooms.

The most expansive of these spaces is the Classroom, which was designed with group distance learning in mind. The 830-square-foot room features 18 workstations for students. Each workstation has a desktop computer with Internet access. All of those computers are linked to a large flat screen monitor and a Promethian ActivBoard at the front of the room. The ActivBoard is an interactive white board that can display both instructors’ and students’ screens during learning sessions, helping to make teaching and comprehension easier.

Contractors and USO information technology staffers have spent the last week putting the finishing touches on the Classroom, which is already slated to host three multi-day USO/Hire Heroes USA Workshops in the next eight months – part of the 30-plus USO Warrior and Family Care programmatic events already scheduled at the Fort Belvoir center in 2013.

Connecting with off-site instructors is easy, too, as a pair of cameras – one each on the front and back walls of the room – make video teleconferencing easy.

Recovering troops, family members and caregivers will also have teleconferencing capabilities in the Study – a 195-square-foot space designed for private classes and interactions – and the Learning Center Lounge, which is an open, 620-square-foot area designed for meetings and group learning.

The final room – dubbed the Learning Center Office – provides a 140-square-foot space for visiting instructors, career counselors or even hiring managers to have one-on-one conversations with troops, spouses and caregivers looking to take the next step in life.

On the off chance there’s no room in the Learning Center, USO guests have other, portable options to make sure their distance learning needs are met.

The Business Center – located adjacent to the Learning Center – has six desktop computer stations for guest use. And if troops or family members want to find a secluded place of their own, there will be a laptop checkout stand at the Business Center featuring 12 machines they can borrow for use inside the center.

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* Shop USO Wishbook to donate funds that helps more troops and families enjoy the programs and services that the USO offers worldwide. 

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