Ground Broken on Center for Wounded Soldiers’ Families

Sat October 06, 2007 - West Edition
Michelle Rindels - ASSOCIATED PRESS



SAN ANTONIO (AP) Officials and volunteers broke ground Sept. 15 on a $4 million support center for the families of severely wounded soldiers who seek treatment and rehabilitation here.

The privately funded facility will be the Army’s first designed specifically to aid the wives, children and parents of severely wounded service members. It will replace a cramped room at the Brooke Army Medical Center that opened months after the start of the Iraq war.

Judith Markelz, the program manager for the Warrior and Family Support Center, said the initial center was opened in December 2003 “naively thinking we’d close in six months.”

But the ongoing war — and the advances in battlefield medicine that allow soldiers with severe wounds to survive — has created growing demand for a place where families can get the comforts of home they abandoned when their loved one was wounded. Many leave jobs and friends behind for an extended stay in San Antonio.

Brooke, housed at Fort Sam Houston, includes the Army’s only burn unit. An amputee rehab center opened in January.

Jayne Webber-Hardy spent six months in San Antonio after her son, a member of the Michigan National Guard, was severely burned in Iraq. The 23-year-old died of his injuries.

Webber-Hardy said the family support center helped her figure out how to do basic things like take the bus and navigate a city she didn’t know.

“This is the most wonderful gift of healing you can give the soldiers and their families,” Webber-Hardy said.

The new 12,000-sq.-ft. (1,100 sq m) facility will include a giant living room with fireplace, a wheelchair-accessible kitchen and rooms for counseling and education. A garden for quiet reflection is planned for outside.

Approximately $800,000 has been collected so far by the Returning Heroes Home fund. Steve Huffman, the president of the commercial development company that helped organize the effort to build the facility, said he expects the rest to be raised by the end of the year.

Construction should take about nine months, he said.

Maj. Gen. Russell Czerw, the commander of Fort Sam, said the center will provide a place to heal and rebuild lives.

“Healing is more than a physiological mending of tissue,” said Czerw, the head of Army medical education. “Our families are there to nurture their souls.”