By Chuck RobertsOctober 24, 2008
LANDSTUHL, Germany (Army News Service, Oct. 24, 2008) -- Although her road to recovery had taken her from Kuwait to Germany, family still seemed a long way from home.
But within moments of cutting the ceremonial ribbon Oct. 21 for the newly opened USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Sgt. Sheena Whitney was transported to her family and pet dog back in Millers Port, Ohio.
The USO Warrior Center was serving its first customer and fulfilling the same mission the United Service Organizations had accomplished since World War II -- to boost the morale of servicemembers and serve as the link between them and the American people.
Whitney, who is recovering from ongoing back problems as an outpatient at the Military Transient Detachment at LRMC, was led into one of the Warrior Center's game rooms under the guise of a tour of the many amenities the site has to offer. But instead of seeing the large flat screen monitor light up with the latest from Nintendo Wii, Whitney looked on with amazement and said, "Is that my mom' Is that my dog'"
After a lengthy chat with her mom Leatha, her sister Danielle, and her dog Midnight, the 23-year-old mechanic who had deployed to Kuwait with the Ohio National Guard gave a hearty endorsement to the Warrior Center, designed and built specifically to serve outpatients housed in the two nearby Medical Transient Detachment dorms.
"This facility is absolutely phenomenal," said Whitney. "I think it's a big honor to be here for the ribbon-cutting ceremony and participate with the Medal of Honor recipients. They're the reason I wear the uniform."
Among the honored guests at the ceremony were five men wearing the nation's highest military honor: Gary Beikirch, Drew Dix, Bob Howard, Gary Littrell and Herschel Williams. Other honored guests included William Timken, the U.S. ambassador to Germany and a primary donor for the Warrior Center, and Gen. Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Army Europe and Seventh Army.
During his speech that at times became emotional, Ham recalled his first encounter with USO when he was a private first class wandering around lost at the airport in Washington, D.C.
"Somebody said, 'Soldier, go up there,' and I went up there and I found I was home, and that's what the USO is. Whether you're a young Pfc. or an old general, the USO is home, and it's a very special place to be," said Ham.
That sentiment was shared by Howard, who received his Medal of Honor for bravery as a sergeant first class assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) during the Vietnam War.
"They are the ones for whom this center is truly dedicated to," Howard said in reference to the wounded warriors attending the dedication ceremony. "And those are the warriors who serve our country so ably and so bravely in the uniform of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
"Remember always that not one of these servicemembers had to do what they are doing. They chose to serve America in a time of war, and their call to duty now brings them here to this place where they continue to serve with honor and dignity. And now they have a place that they can call home, and that's the USO."
The Warrior Center at Landstuhl became one of 133 USO organizations servicing 2.6 million servicemembers and families world-wide annually.
An initial request for a facility to serve outpatient wounded servicemembers at the medical center was received in the fall of 2007 following the move of the Military Transient Detachment from Kleber Kaserne in Kaiserslautern, Germany, to the LRMC.
During their brief time as outpatients at the MTD, which can serve up to 120 wounded warriors, the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who have arrived from Afghanistan and Iraq are medically assessed to determine whether they can be treated and return to duty, or require more definitive care in the United States. About 5,000 wounded warriors resided last year at the MTD in one of the two former billeting buildings at LRMC.
The new USO Warrior Center features:
Aca,!Ac A comfortable "living room" style lounge area furnished with reclining sofas and chairs and a 50-inch plasma-screen television offering a full range of American television channels and sporting events via cable television. A wide selection of current DVDs is also available.
Aca,!Ac A fully equipped kitchen complete with a kitchen counter where wounded warriors can sit and enjoy coffee, soft drinks and snacks while watching their favorite sporting events or other programs on a flat-screen television. Special snacks and holiday meals will also be prepared by USO staff and volunteers.
Aca,!Ac A bistro seating area where wounded warriors can meet, relax, read, play board games or use a laptop to connect to the free Wi-Fi which is available throughout the center.
Aca,!Ac A Cyber CafAfA with eight notebook computers outfitted with webcams, headsets and microphones to facilitate communication with loved ones via e-mail or teleconferencing.
Aca,!Ac Two hard-wired telephone stations and six cordless telephones.
Aca,!Ac A five-station Xbox 360 video gaming room that features individual gaming televisions for four stations and one large wall-mounted LCD television for gaming offering current top-rated video games, the newest peripherals on the market, and the opportunity for multiple players to compete as a team against another team via the internet. The hi-tech gaming room, connected via multiple high-speed Internet lines, allows gamers in the room to compete with each other as well as with friends and family world-wide.
Aca,!Ac A multipurpose room equipped with a Nintendo Wii gaming system and all the latest peripherals, a 46-inch wall-mounted LCD television and a Web camera. Sectional tables and chairs can easily be configured into a scenario enabling world-wide video calling and conferencing. The USO's "United Through Reading" program will also be offered from this multi-purpose room, allowing wounded warriors to send sounds and images of themselves reading books to their children back home.
Aca,!Ac An outdoor patio that will allow wounded warriors to enjoy nice weather and barbeques during the summer months.
(Chuck Roberts serves with Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.)