Warrior and Family Support Center anniversary marks milestone in meeting Soldiers' needs
December 11, 2009
- Warrior and Family Support Center celebrates one year anniversary of caring for wounded warriors and Families.
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas - One year and more than 81,000 visitors later, the "right thing to do" has meant the world to wounded warriors and their Families who frequent the Warrior and Family Support Center on Fort Sam Houston.
The one-year anniversary celebration of the 12,000-square-foot facility Dec. 3 highlighted progress that the center staff has made in caring for Soldiers injured in combat and their Families.
The WFSC provides an environment for Soldiers and Family members to rejuvenate, relax, watch big-screen TVs, play video games, check e-mail or use the Internet. They can select a book or magazine to read, make phone calls, grab a cup of coffee or participate in the dozens of off-post trips planned by the center's staff.
"Our dream was to have a building to house a new Support Center that would do a better job of providing care to the wounded and burned military personnel and their Families," said Judith Markelz, WFSC program manager.
That dream caught the interest of Steve and Les Huffman, who own Huffman Developments, a Texas-based building company.
In January 2007, Steve visited the old center and asked Markelz what was needed. She responded a video game system to replace one that had been stolen. Huffman complied, then wanted to know what else could be used.
"Be careful what you ask for," Markelz said as she acknowledged Huffman at the anniversary party. Now Markelz is celebrating the anniversary of the top-flight facility with an 18-foot Christmas tree in its spacious living room.
The $5.6 million facility was built solely by donations and gives patients a place to recharge their batteries and connect with those closest to them, away from the hospital environment.
"This place is the coolest thing I've ever seen in the Army," said Spc. Omar Meraz, who enjoyed the festivities with his wife and infant daughter. Assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion, he is being treated at Brooke Army Medical Center for injuries he sustained in Iraq. "Everyone here has been really supportive. I never knew places like this or like Fisher House even existed for us."
Another Soldier who lost a limb in combat echoed that statement.
"It's simply amazing that they have put so many resources for us into this place," said Spc. Scott Cain, who has been here for a year. "A lot of us just stay in our rooms because there's nothing to do. A place like this gives us a chance to get out into the world and socialize and have fun."
"We started with no money and a small staff in a 1,200-square-foot room on the second floor of the Powless Guesthouse (six years ago)," Markelz said. "We made a promise to meet the growing needs of our warriors and their Families. This center is keeping that promise."
Markelz - known as "Mom" around the center - added with a smile that she had intended to work just six months after the first center opened, but "that's one promise I'm glad I broke."
Since opening, the old and new centers have seen 360,000 visitors, with more than 81,000 of those coming in 2009 alone to the WFSC.
The original idea for the center came from physicians at BAMC who saw a need for Family members to be intimately involved in the rehabilitation of their service members. A vital part of recovery meant providing a "safe" environment away from the hospital. The concept of the WFSC was then developed by a committee established to support troops who were in combat operations and on the road to recovery.
The Fort Sam Houston WFSC is the only one of its kind in the Army, offering a safe and caring environment for military Families to reconnect during medical treatment.
"This center was built through the love and sweat of the volunteers and the generosity of the community and sponsors involved. It is a sanctuary that helps our wounded warriors and their Families figure out how to make their transition back home," said Col. Mary E. Garr, FSH Garrison commander, at the anniversary celebration. "Their needs are not going away anytime soon. The people who come here all talk about how much they have been touched by the outpouring of love from the staff and community.
"This center isn't the end of what we can do to help them; there's much more to come," Garr added. "More groups are coming together; asking how they can help."
"If these walls could talk, they would speak volumes," said Maj. Gen. Russell Czerw, commander FSH and Army Medical Department Center & School. "The foundation of this building is built not from concrete and steel, but from the love and dedication of so many people."