WALKER, Mich. -- The Army Reserve officially opens a service member support center to connect geographically dispersed military members and their Families with resources in their community.

The Army Strong Community Center also serves as an information and referral office dedicated to assisting and supporting all members of the military: active, reserve, retiree, veteran, and Family members. The center celebrated this past weekend with a ribbon cutting and the signing of a community covenant with local businesses pledging support for those military members seeking assistance.

Walker, Mich., is 300 miles away from the closest major military installation and that considerable distance was the key factor used for its selection as the service center. The Army Strong Community Center offers resources that are normally found at active duty military installations even providing access to emergency support services.

Mrs. Laura Stultz, the wife of Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz, Chief, Army Reserve, and visionary behind the Army Strong Community Center, has seen her share of her husband's mobilizations and deployments. That was the impelling cause behind her push for the creation of virtual installations.

What began as an internet based support tool transformed into a physical location due to the recommendations from Soldiers and their Families.

Mrs. Stultz indicated, "I want to do better for our Army Reserve Soldiers. This center is here to give back and I want everyone to know where this place is--like they know where there post office is."

She also wanted to place emphasis on the needs of the Gold Star Families who have lost a service member in a combat zone serving in any branch of the armed forces.

"There are about 33,000 military personnel in Michigan and it is time consuming for Families to get to an installation, so we're bringing the installation to their hometown," said Mrs. Stultz. The center provides assistance for Families with life management and well-being issues. Included are access to health and dental benefits, housing assistance, childcare and other helpful programs.

"Deep in my heart I know this center will work. The other centers have provided so much support to the men and women in uniform," said Mrs. Stultz. "The Army Strong Community Center is a connection between the military and the community. It helps the Families that live a great distance from an installation."

Troy Klinge, Army Strong Community Center coordinator, emphasized that point, "We are basically an extension of resources to Soldiers and Families."

According to Klinge, the biggest items of concern include legal, employment, identification cards, health insurance, education entitlements, but those are just the top five.

"Knowing where to go is what we are here to help service members with," Kling stressed. "One success story of the 1,000 plus contacts thus far is a World War II veteran needing to apply at a regional center for care and assistance."

He expressed, "If your life has been affected by military service, ASCC (Army Strong Community Center) can help. We're here 40-hours a week."

Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz, Chief, Army Reserve, indicated, "This is one of the most cost-effective ways to take care of our Soldiers. We have cut spending."

With 1.1 million Soldiers in the Army, more emphasis will be placed on the Army Reserve and National Guard, where a majority of medical, engineer and civil affairs units reside; he added that so far there have been more than 100,000 requests for support at the five Army Strong Community Centers.

"My wife, Laura, came up with the idea of a virtual installation to understand and appreciate our Soldiers who are a national treasure," said Stultz, "There is no better way to show support for the men and women in uniform and their Families except by opening this center."

Brig. Gen. Mike Stone, Assistant Adjutant General-Army, of the Michigan National Guard, beamed with excitement and asserted, "There are 702,000 Michigan veterans. We're excited about this as a resource. The significance to Michigan is this is a game changer."

"Often service members are afraid to ask for help and what is amazing is the variety of needs and demands that are out there," said Stone.

He was elated at the apparent limitless desire of people willing to help.

Stone added, "The biggest problem is the disconnect of veterans understanding their benefits and navigating the bureaucracy."

Stone commented on the effort of the teamwork required to make the center a success, "Grand Rapids is a veteran's epicenter with a number of resources supporting veterans of different ages and conflicts."

The net effect of this center will result in increased dialogue about resourcing services from funding that already exists.

Stone ended, "Thank you to the Army Reserve. This is a great asset to the whole region."

Stultz said that two more centers will open within the next couple of years.