By Cheryl HarrisonSeptember 28, 2007
On a daily basis, the majority of Americans wash their face and hands, take a shower or bath, and more than likely reach up to choose an outfit from the closet. All normal routines, usually accomplished without a second thought.
Another group of Americans, which includes wounded warriors, has the same routine, yet it is not accomplished without forethought, planning and execution.
At Okubo Barracks, near Brooke Army Medical Center, renovations have been under way for some time to make navigation and daily routines easier to accomplish for wounded service members.
"With far more wounded Soldiers than anticipated, renovations needed to be accomplished, said Jack Hagans, Directorate of Public Works. "Two of the seven wings are finished, where we have taken two-person rooms and converted them into rooms for one."
The original rooms had two small bedrooms, a common area and a full bath. The rooms were small and had sharp corners and angles to maneuver, not to mention they were dark, cold in appearance and not functional for wheelchairs.
Some of the rooms on the first floor of Okubo Barracks have been renovated to one-person rooms with a living area, bedroom and wheelchair-accessible bath. Tubs were removed and tiled roll-in showers were installed with handicapped rails. Sinks are lower and left open beneath for easy reach and with room for knees and wheels. Closets were installed with lower rods for hanging clothing as well as lower shelving for storage and linens. Included in the upgrades are thresholds with ramps for rolling wheels and easy entry into the rooms, a simple solution for a difficult maneuver, when confined to a wheelchair.
The seven wing barracks was built for warriors in transition and even though it is in essence a part of the hospital, the atmosphere around Okubo is that of apartment living. A few differences are evident; all floors are tiled, the laundry has washers and dryers that are lower than the norm, but it is a home away from home environment.
Behind the doors of the first-floor units is the temporary home of a wounded warrior. The entrance is wider and in some instances a key is not required. Burn victims, for instance, need only to swipe a pass key and the door will automatically open. Enter the common area or living room and notice an openness, lots of light and in the case of Pfc. Terrance McBride, a cozy place to call his own during healing and rehabilitation.
McBride was injured during a training incident while downrange. Both of his hips and legs were crushed and the right leg broken so severely, amputation below the knee was McBride\'s only hope of walking again.
McBride's first floor apartment displays family photos, personal items and even a recliner that he enjoys while watching television.
When asked if he was comfortable in his renovated room, McBride responded, "I can't complain at all, a lot of people fix it to their liking. I bought myself a recliner from the PX. One guy I know has a futon sofa in his room."
"I get along pretty well. I've been up and walking for about four months now. Everything is different now, and I just have to alter the way I do things," added McBride.
Rob "Robbie" Robinson, facility manager, Okubo Barracks, acted as tour guide, showing the before and after rooms. He also pointed out the changes and highlighted what was done and still needs to be done.
"For future renovations, recliners are on the list. I also recommended lighter wall colors rather than the issued gray. It gives a better feel, and all new furniture is being planned," said Robinson.
"In the very near future, the Fort Worth District Corps of Engineers will award a construction contract to replicate the current handicap friendly design to the first floor of Wing G of Building 3631 and the first floors of Wings A and B of Building 3635 by Sept. 30. This will add an additional capacity of 28 rooms to the current 36 rooms that have already been renovated. The project is scheduled for completion in the third quarter of fiscal year 2008," added Hagans.
Okubo Barracks was named for Technician 5th Grade James K. Okubo, who distinguished himself while serving as a medic with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Over the course of two days in October of 1944, with enemy fire, minefields and roadblocks, Okubo heroically came to the aid of about 25 battle buddies. Then a few days later, on Nov. 4, he saved the life of a wounded crewman from a burning tank. For his gallantry, Okubo was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Okubo's name honors the halls of Building 3631, temporary home of today's wounded warriors and America's heroes.