ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - For Denise Carnaggio, when asked to participate in the second annual Spirit of Thanks Tour, the answer was an emphatic "Yes!"

"It changed my life forever," Carnaggio said, referring to the inaugural Chesapeake Science and Security Corridor visit to Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center last year.

The CSSC was initially founded to bring together eight jurisdictions in three states (Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland) to ensure a successful BRAC implementation and high quality of life for those who live and work in the growing APG defense community. The mission has been continued as the CSSC serves as a communications clearinghouse and event coordination hub for regional military information and activities.

Carnaggio, deputy director of the Harford County Office of Economic Development, was one of 24 CSSC professionals to make the trip Nov. 28.

The venue had changed, as Walter Reed merged in September 2011 with the Bethesda Naval Hospital to form the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The patients they visited, however, were the same -- American service men and women wounded in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Armed with baskets of donated gift cards and other goodies, the group visited three WRNMMC sites: patient wards, therapy clinics and the Fisher House. The tour had been preceded by many others, as the Wounded Warrior Center is continually visited by members of congress, professional sports teams and other luminaries.

APG's Command Sgt. Maj. Rodney Rhoades coordinated the visit as one of his last official acts as garrison senior enlisted adviser. Rhoades is being reassigned in early 2012.

Calling the wounded warriors "our brothers and sisters," Rhoades prepared the visitors for what they were about to see.

"We have a unique opportunity to lift the spirits of some of our nation's very finest," he said. "When we do that, you have to be cautious about what you say and what you show. I am always cautious about the emotions that I show when talking to them about what they have gone through."

"They just want to be Soldiers. They want to continue to serve their country. So take the time to put your game face on -- do just that. Put a smile on your face and put your game face on. And in each room you go in you're going to have to figure out what touches that individual, what's the driving force for that individual. Many of them will tell you stories, and many of them will look for you to tell them stories.

"Our nation is doing an incredible job taking care of our service members and I couldn't be prouder to be a member of your Army. And that's truly who we represent -- you and this great nation," Rhoades said.

CSSC manager Karen Holt said the visit is a valuable experience for everyone.

"For many of us our work keeps us connected to national defense and some aspect of homeland security, but nothing brings home the true sacrifice of our service men and women in protecting our freedoms than a first-hand encounter with those who have put themselves in harm's way," Holt said.

"Saying 'Thank you for your service' seems but a small gesture; however, the genuine interest, compassion and support shown by each of you representing the APG community goes a long way to boost spirits and reinforce that our service men and women are a valued and integral part of our community."

Because of tour-size restrictions, the CSSC offered the visit to fewer participants this year. Those who took part helped reinforce the partnership between APG and the surrounding community. They also took away poignant memories of the great sacrifices America's service members have made in service of their country.

"Keep that spirit alive beyond this experience," Holt said. "Reaching out in small ways to a passing Soldier at a local diner, a military family you see at an event or a veteran in your neighborhood can keep our community connected in ways we may never know."