Earlier this week I attended the ground breaking for the USO Wounded Warrior and Family Center in Fort Belvoir, Va. that was also a kickoff for the public portion of Operation Enduring Care, the largest program the USO has taken on since 1941.
General Richard Myers (Ret) told us that this wasn’t the USO of our fathers, the USO that only ran the airport centers or gave out magazines in the hospitals. Now, don’t get me wrong, the USO still runs the airport centers, and a couple of weeks ago I was very happy that they still do… It’s a quiet safe place, where you can get a cup of coffee, a bottle of water, and in some places a sandwich and cookies, without being charged anything at all. A comfortable chair, a place to catch a nap, a welcoming smile and a feeling that you are safe and welcome.
Safe and welcome – that’s the idea behind this new center. After seeing Walter Reed’s Ward 57 and 58 for myself; I know even more that a quiet place that isn’t medical, that doesn’t have doctors and nurses, with IVs and buttons and buzzers; that doesn’t have the smell of disinfectant and old coffee; is necessary.
Everyone at the groundbreaking talked about healing; the healing power of love; that this would be a place of healing; that the healing was not just of the body, but of the spirit; the healing was not just of the servicemember, but also of the spouse, the parents, the children and other family members.
The speakers included General Dempsey who remembered his introduction to the USO many years ago as young Lt. Dempsey at the Frankfurt Airport (noticing a theme?); Sloan Gibson, the CEO of the USO who talked about lifting the spirit, and uniting America in support of troops. He called it the National Community of Care, to show true support – not just flag, parades and picnics – “support the troops” needs to be more than a slogan.
The center will have a family kitchen, play center, recreation area, business center, meditation gardens designed to help the wounded achieve what is called complete healing.
One of the speakers looked very familiar, but I couldn’t figure out where I had seen that smiling Marine Master Sgt with the prosthetic leg. Until he smiled at me and said it was good to see me again, and how had I done with my final exam! MSgt William Gibson aka Spanky and I had met one rainy day at the Northern Virginia Community College location where we took exams. I had noticed his prosthesis, his High and Tight and asked him if he’d been to Walter Reed. This was about 3 days after my friend’s husband had lost his leg below the knee in Afghanistan and I had a bazillion questions for him. He was very kind and talked to me for quite a while – we talked about what the soldier needs (well, he said Marine, cause that’s how he rolls) and we talked about what the families need. The needs are not the same, but must mesh if the family is to hold together. During his remarks at the groundbreaking, he talked about the young families, the young spouse who comes to the side of the wounded warrior and puts the family’s life on hold; may leave the children with a parent or a good friend to spend days and weeks at the bedside, dealing with doctors and bureaucrats and pain and terror, some of them are in their late teens or early 20s. And I smiled, because that’s what we talked about that rainy day. As he said, this center will help our service members reintegrate, and even more importantly (according to Spanky ) the family members, those that give up everything to rush to the bedside will have a place to plan, to reintegrate and figure out what is next for their family.
This place, this haven away from the hospital, away from military life will be a safe and comfortable place for our warriors and their families. The USO and their partners are making a huge difference in the lives of our military families. I can’t wait to see the dozers and the concrete trucks pulling up to that site, and the walls going up.
*thanks to Gen. Myers..