ARLINGTON, Va. -- Soldiers assigned to the Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston Soldier Recovery Unit appear to have been bitten by the gardening bug. Some are experienced gardeners, while others are watering plants and pulling weeds for the first time in their lives.
The garden stems from the SRU’s adaptive reconditioning program, which offers activities that help Soldiers in their recovery. It’s part of the Army Recovery Care Program, which supports wounded, ill and injured Soldiers as they transition back to the force or to veteran status.
The JBSA garden is one element of an ongoing effort to make the Liberty Barracks courtyard a more inviting space so Soldiers can enjoy themselves outside. The project will also feature landscaping, native flowers, shade trees and a meditation area. It may include a fire pit, additional grills, an amphitheater, basketball and volleyball courts, said Adaptive Reconditioning Support Specialist Angel Flores. He hopes the project will be completed soon.
Soldiers and Marines housed at Liberty Barracks presented the idea because they wanted to beautify the area and create an outdoor space for leisure and socializing. The project is Soldier-driven, which means that they perform all of the gardening and landscaping and will maintain it. Flores said that the Soldiers enjoy seeing the plants grow and the sense that they created the garden.
“They’re very excited to maintain their garden so they can take from it and enjoy it in the future,” he said.
Master Sgt. Mary Jackson used to own a lawn and landscaping business. She is passionate about gardening and saw firsthand how enthusiasm blossomed in Soldiers who never thought they would be doing it.
“They discovered a new passion,” she said.
The JBSA garden consists of eight beds that feature herbs, vegetables and fragrant hedges. They hold rosemary, thyme, cilantro, cucumbers watermelon, cantaloupe, cherry tomatoes, eggplant, bell, habanero and jalapeno peppers.
She described visiting the new courtyard as a refreshing and relaxing experience similar to sitting in a botanical garden.
“It brings the Soldiers out of the barracks to start conver[sing], especially with the pandemic we are going through now, I think it’s very needed,” she said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Soldiers wear masks and maintain a six-foot distance between each other while gardening. Temperature checks are also administered upon arrival.
Flores has noticed more Soldiers spending time in the courtyard and checking out the vegetable area. Some are even taking photos and selfies.
“It is wonderful to see leadership making changes to our courtyard to make it a beautiful place for us to [hang out] outdoors and be able to socialize with friends and family,” said Sgt. 1st Class Dewanna Thornton, who has been part of planting, landscaping and maintaining the garden.
She is looking forward to harvesting vegetables and preparing meals from the garden.
The Army Warrior Care and Transition Program is now the Army Recovery Care Program. Although the name has changed, the mission remains the same: to provide quality complex case management to the Army's wounded, ill and injured Soldiers.