Chilly, misty weather didn't dampen the spirits of more than 150 people who attended the Nov. 5 opening of the Fort Bragg, N.C., Army Wellness Center (AWC).

"Today, we officially open a facility focused exclusively on improving the health and wellness of our community. This Army Public Health Command program is going to make a difference here at Fort Bragg," proclaimed Lt. Gen. Frank G. Helmick, commander, 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, during the ceremony.

The wellness center at Fort Bragg exemplifies the capabilities of U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional)'s Army Wellness Center Program. It offers the standardized programs that USAPHC (Prov) hopes to develop at major Army installations, as well as major installations that are joint with other services.

This goal cannot be achieved without the support of senior leaders like Helmick, medical treatment facility commanders and staffs, and USAPHC (Prov) health promotion and wellness experts.

"This facility couldn't have been put together without a team who did awesome work, under budget and before the scheduled date. From idea to ribbon cutting was nine months of hard work and effort," Helmick explained.

Both Helmick and Brig. Gen. Timothy K. Adams, USAPHC (Prov) commander, emphasized that collaboration and cooperation are key to the successful launching of AWCs.

"This was a collaborative effort by the Army Public Health Command, the 18th Airborne command, the Fort Bragg garrison, and Womack Army Medical Center," Adams said.

The wellness center also underscores two commitments that the Army has made to Soldiers and retirees, their families and DoD civilians. It strengthens the Army Family Covenant's promises of improved, more holistic health care and service to families, as well as the Army surgeon general's commitment to a focus on prevention and sustaining good health.

Adams said that the Army Medical Command is "moving from a system that is reactionary and treatment-focused, a 'sick-care system' so to speak, to one that is proactive and focused on prevention, health promotion and wellness. This system for health will be enhanced by the Army Wellness Centers."

When all 38 planned sites are completed, the Army will have a standardized system in place to help keep its people healthy, he added.

The mission of wellness center development was assigned to MEDCOM, and in turn given by the surgeon general to the USAPHC (Prov).

The centers focus on health assessment, physical fitness, healthy nutrition, stress management, general wellness education and tobacco education. All programs are free for Soldiers and retirees, family members and DoD civilians.

The Fort Bragg AWC was developed after the model of the five USAPHC (Prov)-designed AWCs existing in Europe. The basic model of a wellness center can be reproduced in any location and customized to support the needs of each community, according to Adams.

"The AWCs will have tactical relevance and will integrate health promotion and wellness to enhance the military community," explained Kym Ocasio, program manager for Health Promotion Operations at USAPHC (Prov).

The center at Fort Bragg has a wide variety of state-of-the-art equipment to ensure that fitness and wellness can be assessed, according to Todd Hoover, director of Army Wellness Centers-Europe, who coordinated the new AWC.

The services offered-including body fat measurement, metabolic testing and measurement of the volume of oxygen consumed while exercising-would cost as much as $3,000 per customer from private sources, according to Hoover.

By sustaining and improving fitness, nutrition and general health, the center is saving money for the Army and health system beneficiaries, according to Hoover. Savings may accrue through reduction or prevention of such things as duty days lost to injury or illness, reduction or mitigation of chronic health conditions caused by lifestyle choices such as smoking and obesity, and stress reduction.

This AWC focuses on health promotion and learning how to enhance and sustain a healthy lifestyle for members of the Fort Bragg community, according to Maj. Heidi Whitescarver, chief of Public Health Nursing at Womack and acting director of the new AWC.

For commanders, training and readiness are enhanced. For all beneficiaries, the opportunity of improved quality of life and health increases, she said.

"The USAPHC's experienced team helped with every aspect of the wellness center including coordinating equipment and setup, and hiring and training the health service professionals who will staff the center," Whitescarver continued.

Referrals to the wellness center will come through partnership with the local medical treatment facility, although Soldiers and retirees, their families, and civilian employees do not need a referral to use the facility.

"This is a good idea for the Army. The cost benefit of preventing illness or disease rather than treating someone after they develop a problem is substantial," according to Col. Jeffrey L. Kingsbury, chief of Preventive Medicine at Womack.

Womack's commander agreed.

"This is an important, well-needed resource for the hospital. We need to get into a preventive medicine mode, and I am encouraging the physicians at [Womack] to visit the center and see what it offers and then to make referrals for patients who could use the AWC services," explained Col. Brian T. Canfield, hospital commander.

But ultimately, it's the individuals the wellness center serves that are Helmick's focus.

"If we can find one person and work with them before something becomes a problem, we will be doing our job. This was a huge deal, and we couldn't have done it without General Adams, his team, the military treatment facility and the garrison. This facility may just be the first of its kind here at Fort Bragg, but as we see its effectiveness, we may build more," he said.