Fort Meade center's services aid Wounded Warriors
June 16, 2011
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (June 16, 2011) -- A little more than six months after the official opening of its new building, Fort Meade's Soldier and Family Assistance Center has become a home away from home for nearly 200 Soldiers in its care.
"They're great. They make you feel like family," said Sgt. Elvie Payton, who was injured in Iraq and has been a member of the installation's Warrior Transition Unit for three years.
The SFAC's staff has helped Payton transfer the benefits of his GI Bill to his daughter.
"They do what they can to pick you up -- they don't let you get down about anything," he said. "I like that."
Located at 85th Medical Battalion Road, the SFAC, in partnership with the installation's Warrior Transition Unit at Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center, coordinates resources and provides comprehensive services to wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and their families in an environment that fosters physical, mental and spiritual healing.
"We want them to have a positive experience," said Mark Stoessel, executive director of the SFAC. "We care about them and we're here to help them."
Capt. Jack Johnston, commander of the WTU, said the SFAC is a place of comfort for wounded and ill Soldiers.
"They provide a lot of things you really can't measure -- a place to go to hang out, talk to your peers," he said.
The SFAC, which is part of Army Community Service, handles all of a Soldier's nonclinical and nonadministrative needs. The center provides a full range of educational and career services as well as more than 15 monthly classes, ranging from creative writing, art therapy and computer literacy to stress and anger management, residential plumbing and archery. The SFAC also has its own garden and uses the produce for a nutrition and culinary arts class.
All of the services and classes are designed to encourage Soldiers' healing and improve their psychological and social well-being.
The center also provides referrals to ACS for services it does not provide.
The center's five-member staff moved into the new 4,500-square-foot facility in February and handles about 700 WTU Soldiers visits per month. The building includes a 20-seat reception area, children's activity room, handicapped-accessible kitchen, two handicapped- accessible bathrooms, a conference and training room, three computer rooms and several flat-screen televisions. There is also office space for the staff.
The SFAC was furnished through a public and private initiative led by the Fort Meade Alliance and the United Service Organization of Metropolitan Washington. The Alliance and the USO raised more than $100,000 for the effort.
The WTU, which currently serves about 190 active-duty, National Guard and Reserve Soldiers, helps them to return to their units, reclassify to other military occupational specialties or transition back to communities as retired veterans.
The administrative building, located down the road from the SFAC, provides office space for the squad and platoon leaders who are part of the unit's cadre.
Although many of the WTU Soldiers were wounded in combat, others may have been wounded or became ill before or after deployment or while stationed at units.
Chris Lewis, the SFAC's social services coordinator, said many of the center's Soldiers have some form of post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury.
In teaching many of the center's classes, Lewis said his intent is to help the Soldiers "get back on track" by returning to school, finding a job and reintegrating with their families.
R.C. Fisher, the center's education and guidance counselor, said the staff strives to help Soldiers avoid many of the pitfalls encountered by some wounded warriors.
"Everything I do is by the motto 'No Soldier Left Behind,' " Fisher said.
Spc. Shaun Herbert, a member of the WTU since January, visits the SFAC every day.
"It's good to have a place where we can go to talk, clear your head, get some good advice," said Herbert, who has received help with his resume and registering for tuition assistance through the GoArmy education program. "We have a security blanket, people who are looking out for our best interests."
Stoessel, a retired Army officer, said the fact that many of the center's staff are also retired service members is an added benefit.
"Once you've been in their shoes [as a service member], you can talk to Soldiers and understand where they're coming from," Stoessel said. "We're able to empathize with them."
After Soldiers complete the WTU program, many remain in contact with SFAC staff members.
Lewis said hearing about a Soldier's success is the most rewarding part of his job, "when Soldiers call and say, 'Thanks, I wouldn't have been able to make it without you.' "