Can you thank warriors with a building? Not a monument. Not a wall. Not a statue.
But a building -- with state of the art video games, Wi-Fi, a movie theater, a recording studio, yoga rooms, reflection gardens, classrooms, a House Beautiful-style kitchen, and a golf simulator?
Although the veterans of OIF and OEF will surely get monuments in their time, the USO’s new Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., is a building designed to thank troops now -- while they are young.
Located within the campus of the new Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Warrior and Family Center was held this week. The new center is meant to be a resource for the half million military members and their families in the Greater Washington D.C. area.
It is particularly meant for all the warriors seeking treatment at the hospital. Individual wounded, ill, or injured servicemembers, as well as members of the Army’s Warrior Transition Units and Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment, often wait hours between appointments. The Center gives servicemembers and family members a place to relax while waiting.
Warriors told the designers from STUDIOS Architecture that they did not want fluorescent lights and fake plants. They wanted natural light and airy spaces to combat the anxiety some PTSD sufferers experience in crowded public spaces.
“We told the architects we wanted the center designed to ‘the audible gasp’ standard,” said Sloan Gibson, USO President and CEO. When warriors and family members walked into the center, the USO team wanted them to know they had the best. They wanted troops to be pleased, wowed, thrilled. They wanted to hear "the audible gasp."
“Then we had another 'audible gasp’ when we told the board members what it was going to cost,” confessed Gibson.
In addition to a quarter of a million individual Americans who stepped up to donate to the USO’s Operation Enduring Care, corporate donors made the project possible. The Northrop Grumman Foundation’s $5 million donation was the largest in the history of the USO.
The Kuwait America Foundation also presented the USO with a substantial gift. His Excellency Sheikh Salem Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the ambassador of the State of Kuwait, reminded the appreciative crowd of the invasion of Kuwait in 1991 to explain why the care of wounded warriors in the United States mattered.
“If it weren’t for the U.S. armed forces, I would not be standing here today as a representative of a free and sovereign nation,” he said.
Corporate donors also included Jeep, The Anschutz Foudation, The Coca-Cola Foundation, The Timken Group. Lowes, BAE Systems, News Corporation, JC Penney, and actor Charlie Sheen among many others.
The new center will be staffed by 350 trained USO volunteers, as well as some USO staff members.
A second USO Warrior and Family Center is under construction at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. When warriors enter these new centers, they are meant to see the sentiment behind stone and brick and living rooftops.
“People believe in what they see and what they feel more than what they hear,” said Gen. William Troy, director of the Army Staff. “They will know someone does care and that they are not alone. This building says in structure and activity what words alone cannot say.”