JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq - The 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) commanding general Brig. Gen. Paul L. Wentz and Air Force Brig. Gen. Craig A. Franklin, commander, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, cut a ceremonial ribbon to signify the opening of Red River Place behind Freedom Chapel, during a ceremony at 7:30 a.m. Aug. 17 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.

Red River Place will be open 24 hours a day to provide service members a place to congregate, recuperate from the daily stress of their missions and relax.

"We're excited about it because it gives people another opportunity to relax and improve their quality of life while they are here on Joint Base Balad," said Air Force Lt. Col. F. Hodges Viccellio, deputy wing chaplain, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. "It's a great place to be, but it's also a hard place to be."

It was an engineering feat to get the trailers in and leveled, establish electricity and get everything running, said Col. Jeff Swanson, senior chaplain for JBB, also with the 332nd.

"Red River Place was named by Soldiers to honor the crew of a (Boeing) CH-47 (Chinook) helicopter that crashed and killed seven crew members on a mission here in Iraq (in September 2008) ," said Swanson. "Their call-sign on that particular mission was Red River 44, and so this ministry center is named in their honor to continue their legacy of service to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines."

Red River Place is designed to provide a place for Soldiers to use the internet, watch a movie or gather to provide moral support for each other, said Swanson.

Red Cross workers built eight bookshelves for Red River Place and filled them with thousands of books donated by U.S. citizens.

The Red Cross also supplied the facility with care package items for service members, including drink mix, non-perishable food and hygiene items.

A mother from New Jersey made a special donation when she founded Operation Pillow, said Swanson. Her son gave her the idea when he served in Iraq, he said. New Jersey organizations generated four truck loads of pillows and the funds to have them delivered to Iraq.

The pillows line the tops of the bookshelves in Red River Place, so any service member who needs a soft place to lay their head can have one.

Swanson said he expects roughly 2,000 service members each month with an increase as Red River Place becomes better known.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16