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USO Breaks Ground on New Warrior and Family Center in Bethesda, Md.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

By Eric Brandner 

Today it was a mound of dirt. But some day soon, it will feel like a home.

The USO broke ground on the USO Warrior and Family Center located on Naval Support Activity Bethesda, home of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., on Wednesday.

“We’re building hope here and this is the beginning of that journey,” USO President Sloan Gibson said. “Hope for our healing heroes and for their families.

“[This will be] a place where futures are planned and where they are launched.”

The USO Warrior and Family Center in Bethesda will be a 16,217-square-foot home-away-from-home for America’s wounded, ill and injured troops and their families and caregivers. The single-story building is designed to provide a place for USO Warrior and Family Care programs and activities addressing physical health and recreation, behavioral health, family strengthening and education, employment and community reintegration.

“Today we’re starting on a mission, building an outstanding center that’s going to be a place of healing and fellowship,” said Navy Capt. Fritz Kass, the commander of Naval Support Activity Bethesda. “A place where families will come to nourish their bodies and their souls.”

The center will be part of the most advanced medical campus in the military. The new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center opened last fall and features cutting–edge prosthetics and brain injury labs. Troops who arrive at the hospital in Bethesda are often suffering from both physical and emotional wounds of war.

“Many of [America’s wounded, ill and injured troops] are even more exhausted and more tired. Perhaps that [emotional change] took place after three or four deployments,” said Navy Surgeon General Vice Adm. Matt Nathan. “We see that in the stress of the families, we see that in the stress on the wounded and we need to be all-in, doing everything we can for their spiritual and emotional support.”

The USO Warrior and Family Center at Bethesda was designed to feature three zones. The first zone – recreation and normalcy – provides gathering and social spaces for recovering troops, their families and caregivers. The second zone – respite – is designed to be a place for quiet contemplation. The third program zone – education and work – is a place where guests can receive individual support and guidance as they look to forge careers in the civilian workforce.

It will include the USO’s state-of-the-art learning center, which will give troops and their families an opportunity to get a jump on their next steps in life.

The center will be surrounded by healing gardens, a sprawling botanical layout that is aimed at boosting both behavioral health – through the calming effect of the scenery – and physical rehabilitation via the paths and inclines where wounded, ill and injured troops can relearn to walk.

Gibson also announced Tuesday that a bust of Prescott Bush – father of former President George H.W. Bush and grandfather of former President George W. Bush – will be displayed in the lobby as a way to thank him for his leadership in the early days of World War II. Prescott Bush was a leading fundraiser for the USO and a proponent of the organization during its infancy, raising more than $210 million by the end of the war.

Gibson read a letter Tuesday from former President George H.W. Bush thanking the USO.

“The entire Bush family could not be more thrilled that the USO has decided to honor our father and grandfather this way,” the letter said. “I have always been proud of his role in the founding of the USO but I thought it was a family secret. All these years later for this great man to be recognized for what he did for love of country means a great deal to me, my brothers and sister, and all his grandchildren – especially the one who became the 43rd President of the United States.”

Of course, a center of this magnitude – and its sister USO Warrior and Family Center on Fort Belvoir, Va. – would not be possible without generous donors. Operation Enduring Care Co-Chair Ed Reilly went down the list of contributors that helped make these centers possible such as corporate donors like the Northrop Grumman Foundation, the Coca-Cola Foundation, the Anschutz Foundation, Charity Works, jcp cares and individual donors like former Ambassador Tim and Sue Timken and actor Charlie Sheen.

“When they step in [to the Bethesda center], we want them to think, ‘America thinks I’m special,’” said General (ret.) Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the USO Board of Governors.

* * *

Photo caption: USO President and CEO Sloan Gibson, left, chats with supporters at the future site of the USO Warrior and Family Center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda, Md. (Credit: Mike Theiler / USO) 

Donate today to support our troops this Veterans Day during the USO’s "Grant a Wish for Our Heroes" campaign. 

Federal employees can help the USO fulfill its mission to support troops and their families though the 2012 Combined Federal Campaign. Please designate #11381. 

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