FORT BELVOIR, Va. (Army News Service, June 27, 2011) -- A groundbreaking ceremony today marked the beginning of construction for the first stateside USO center that will provide non-critical care and support for wounded, injured and ill servicemembers.

The center at Fort Belvoir, Va., will also support families and caregivers of the wounded as they transition from inpatient to outpatient care.

The day also marked the official launch of Operation Enduring Care, USO's $100-million initiative. A quarter of these funds will go to construct both the Belvoir center and one at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

Another $25 million will ensure these centers are self-supporting and $50 million will underwrite programs to be offered at the centers and around the world that advance these servicemembers and their families in the future.

"It's a great day for Fort Belvoir and the Warrior Care Triad," said Fort Belvoir Garrison Commander Col. John J. Strycula. "Along with our new community hospital, our Wounded Warrior complex with personnel lodging, command and control headquarters, and Soldier and Family Assistance Center; and this USO facility where warriors can relax, we'll have established a home away from home."

Strycula said about 200 wounded warriors will initially move to Belvoir from the closing Walter Reed Army Medical Center, with the capacity being more than 400.

The center, he said, will be an important cog in the concept of Soldier and family-centered care and recovery. The center will have a family kitchen, a children's play space, recreational areas, classrooms, a learning center, and a business center. But it will also be a place where Soldiers and families can find peace, solace and help in their recovery process.

The 25,000-square-foot building will also encompass movie theaters and healing gardens.

He said that although the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are slowing down, the need to care for the complexity of wounded warriors' and their family's visible and invisible wounds will continue far into the future.

"We've learned that healing is much more than just a physical process. True and complete healing encompasses physical, emotional, social, spiritual and family healing. That's what complete healing is all about and that's what makes our warriors Army strong," said Strycula.

Congressman Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia's 11th District, agreed.

"When our troops come home, we have a commitment to do the right thing. This is an important day for the program," said Connolly, who has introduced 35 pieces of legislation to help vets and active duty servicemembers.

"The legislation I've introduced covers everything from post-traumatic stress disorder to housing and jobs," he said.

Speakers at the event included Sloan D. Gibson, president and CEO of USO; Sue Timken, co-chair of Operation Enduring Care; Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia's 8th District; and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey.

"In many ways, my career of 37 years began with the USO when they helped 2nd Lt. Dempsey after landing in Germany," he said, adding that caring for the military men and women and their families is an enduring responsibility.

"Over the last 10 years, I've often wondered why do these young men and women of all branches of service -- do what we ask them to do -- why do they venture out into harm's way? They do that because of one simple value that defines our profession, and that value is trust.

"They trust the men and women to their left and right, they trust their leaders, and importantly, they trust that behind them, back in the United States that if something happens to them, they'll be cared for medically (and) their families will be cared for, and that's what this is all about.

"And I'm very proud and very excited for what the people at the USO are doing," Dempsey said.

In 2003, the USO began its care for the wounded warrior community in Germany at Ramstein Air Base to provide a home-away-from-home environment. Five years later, the USO Warrior Center was built at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center to serve the outpatient wounded until they were cleared to return to their unit in Afghanistan or Iraq.

In 2010, the USO launched comprehensive long-term programs designed to create a continuum of care, including physical health and recreation, mental health support, family strengthening, education, employment and community integration.

The Wounded Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2012.