FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- The Warrior and Family Support Center celebrated its 10-year anniversary with a seam-popping full house Dec. 4 at their facility, with guests from the Fort Sam and San Antonio communities as well as wounded warriors and their family members.
From their humble beginnings in an on-post hotel in 2003, the WFSC has grown into a place where wounded warriors and their families can truly relax and receive essential elements of healing provided by the staff and volunteers there.
Everything from the floors to the doors and all in between was donated in one form or another by the people and organizations of South-Central Texas and beyond.
The WFSC director, Judith Markelz, manages the facility with just 9 employees but it is operated through donations and the dedicated time of numerous volunteers. And while there is certainly a diverse number of people and entities who have given selflessly to create and run the WFSC over the past 10 years, the common denominator is the love and support for our service members who have been injured or wounded and their families who move through every step of their recovery with them as they heal.
"What we do here involves working directly with wounded warriors and their family members who are in need of reassurance, who are in need of love, who are in need of a place to go where they can feel like they've come home," Markelz said. "It's ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things. Each of us must do what we can and this is what we must do. Everything that this community has brought and built is for our wounded warriors and their families."
Markelz is also known as "Mom" to the extended family at the WFSC that grows with each warrior and family member who comes there to recuperate. And this is a moniker she said she wears with absolute pride. It is not just a word to her, but something she takes to heart and is evident in how she protects those she cares for as well as how others view her. It is plain to see by any who visit, both in Markelz and her staff members and volunteers. No one orks there is there because they "have to" - all are there for the Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who come to the facility to heal mind, body and spirit.
"Everybody is here because they have a different injury and/or illness," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Armstead, a medic who came to the WFSC 6 months ago with his wife, Gretchen, and 5-year old daughter, Imij, after he was diagnosed with cancer. "But here it's common ground."
Armstead hit two significant points in his life this year - he reached 20 years of active service and received a phone call from his doctor telling him he had cancer. He said he just completed a physical and, needless to say, it turned his world upside down.
"It might as well have been an (Improvised Explosive Device)," Armstead said of the news. But despite this, he and his family made the best of it and he has since had surgery to remove what cancer they had found and has been recovering and waiting, using the resources offered by the WFSC and the support and comfort of the staff to get through this difficult time.
Gretchen said she felt almost overwhelmed knowing that so many people had come together to help them and others there.
"It's a huge facility," she said. "We have luncheons here all the time. They have craft classes that anyone can come to. The garden here is beautiful - there is a butterfly garden and a kid's park. It's wonderful."
Armstead summed up what the WFSC meant to him and his loved ones, as well as what this day meant.
"Literally, since we've arrived, we've been considered family here," he said. "This is a getaway. The moment you walk through these doors, it causes your worries to melt away. I'm very thankful to have my family here with me and to have a place like this to be at."
During his remarks to the guests who attended the open house event, Lt. Gen. Perry Wiggins made it clear how important it was to have a place like the WFSC that is so vital to our wounded warriors and their loved ones.
"When you think about the genesis of this facility, from its very inception, it is out of the genuine concern and love of individuals who reached out and wanted to do for our soldiers something special," he said of the people and organizations that helped make the WFSC possible. "It's easy to serve a grateful nation, but it is a blessing to be serving here in San Antonio, Military City U.S.A., where they take that to a whole new level."
Wiggins is the commanding general for U.S. Army North (Fifth Army) and senior commander for Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis.
The WFSC started in a meager temporary facility but has since grown into a massive "Hill Country Home" surrounded by beautiful gardens that has become the example for other facilities across the nation.
"San Antonio has a lot to offer and the kindness is always there, but this place is absolutely indispensable," said Armstead.