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American Forces Press Service

New San Antonio Center for Wounded Warriors to Replace Current Facility

By Minnie Jones
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, Sept. 20, 2007 – A new Warrior and Family Support Center being built here will be 10 times the size of the current facility.

A Sept. 15 groundbreaking ceremony marked the start of construction on the new 12,000-square-foot facility located across from the post’s Fisher Houses, where many wounded warriors and their families stay during long rehabilitations.

The new Warrior and Family Support Center will provide a nurturing and comfortable environment where returning soldiers and their families can rest and recover. The new building will replace the 1,200-square-foot facility currently housed on the second floor of the Powless Guest House here.

“President Theodore Roosevelt once said: ‘A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards. More than that, no man is entitled to, and less than that, no man shall have,’” Maj. Gen. Russell Czerw, commander of Army Medical Department Center and School and Fort Sam Houston, said at the groundbreaking ceremony.

“In my mind, Roosevelt would approve of what we are doing here today for our wounded soldiers,” Czerw said. “He would be proud. Not only are we taking care of the soldier, but we are also taking care of their entire family.”

Since opening its doors in December 2003, the Warrior and Family Support Center, formerly the Soldier and Family Assistance Center, has accommodated more than 180,000 visits from wounded warriors and their families -- family members who have left their jobs and homes to come to Fort Sam Houston to help with the rehabilitation of their loved ones.

The current center has outgrown its space, due to the length of the war and an increase in wounded warriors, officials said. The additional influx requires a permanent facility to meet all of the Warrior and Family Support Center operations.

The new building will provide a “living room” environment, a place for social interaction and recreation between wounded warriors and their families. It was designed with wounded warriors’ requirements in mind -- fully wheelchair-accessible, with an atmosphere that will encourage healing. The new facility will have a computer classroom, kitchen, dining room, conference room, adequate bathrooms, and storage and social-gathering areas. It also will provide opportunities in training for new job skills.

In attendance at the groundbreaking was Jayne Webber-Hardy, the mother of Sgt. Matthew Webber, a member of the Michigan National Guard who died of injuries he suffered in Iraq. Webber-Hardy explained how the center helped her during her stay here by her son’s side and how she would have been lost without the assistance and help provided by Judith Markelz, the center’s program manager, and her staff.

“This new building is absolutely the most wonderful, precious gift of healing that you as a community, the sponsors and parents can give to these soldiers and their families,” Webber-Hardy said.

Army Spc. Francesca Duke, who was injured by a car bomb in Ramadi, Iraq, is now an outpatient receiving treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center. She recalled her first encounter with the center.

“The Warrior and Family Support Center is where my mother and I found solace; it is one of the beginning steps in aiding in the recovery process for all heroes injured in support of operations Enduring (Freedom) and Iraqi Freedom. This is your home away from home,” Duke said.

Markelz said she is thrilled about the new facility. “This is a place to honor (wounded warriors), a place where they can come and be themselves.”

Steve Huffman, president of Huffman Developments and the Returning Heroes Home Board of Directors, attended the ceremony along with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and several local and state politicians.

Huffman helped to organize the effort to build the facility, and the fund has raised more than $800,000. Construction of the $3.5 million building is scheduled for completion in 2008, and Huffman said he expects that the remainder of the funds will be raised by the end of this year.

This project is just one of many pledges under the new Army Medical Action Plan that soldiers returning home from fighting the battles of war will not have fight a bureaucracy to obtain health care and other services during their recovery at Brooke Army Medical Center and elsewhere and their transition back to service or to civilian life afterwards.

“I have never seen a more collaborative and successful team. The plans were completed, reviewed and submitted to Washington for approval within one week,” Huffman said. “From the time the plans left the post and sent to Washington, it was approved and accepted in record time by Pete Geren, the secretary of the Army. This project was a clear reflection of the efforts of the entire team – Col. Wendy Martinson (commander of U.S. Army Garrison Fort Sam Houston), Randy Robinson (director of Installation Management Command West Region) and their outstanding staff.

“Why did we get involved? The answer is simple: the men and women, our warriors and their families who made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that we can enjoy the liberties and freedom that we too many times take for granted,” he said.

(Minnie Jones works at the Fort Sam Houston Public Information Office.)

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