A Place for America’s Warriors to Heal

'It's about how we can all make sure their service and sacrifice to our nation is appreciated, honored, and remembered'

by Katherine Harris | Updated 07 Dec 2017 at 9:36 AM

The Warrior and Family Support Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston celebrated its 14th anniversary this week — and when you consider where it is and what it’s become, this is an incredible testament to the people of South and Central Texas.

As the global war on terrorism continues, seriously injured soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines were evacuated from the theater of operations to major medical facilities located on military installations. Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) is one of the world’s best trauma centers, and many of these wounded warriors receive their medical care there. Due to the seriousness of their injuries, these warriors remain at BAMC for an extended period of time, which, in many cases, exceeds 12 months.

BAMC physicians noticed a need for family members to be intimately involved in the rehabilitation of their wounded warrior, and that a vital part of his or her recovery meant a need to have a “safe” environment away from the hospital.

There was a feeling that something was missing, something that could help these brave warriors and their families better recover from injuries sustained while the nation was at war. On the physicians’ initiative, the concept of the Warrior and Family Support Center (WFSC) was developed, led by Army Community Service and authorized by the Fort Sam Houston (FSH) Garrison Commander.

There was a feeling that something was missing, something that could help these brave warriors and their families better recover from injuries sustained while the nation was at war.

My friend and colleague, Judith Markelz, was asked to set up a place where families could meet while their service member was receiving long-term care at Brooke Army Medical Center. On Dec. 8, 2003, the conference rooms on the second floor of the on-post Powless Hall Guest House were converted to a 1,200-square-foot warrior and family support center, and the doors were opened.

In just five years, through the tenacious efforts of Judith Markelz, her team of volunteers, multiple private and corporate sponsors, and the Returning Heroes Home Project, the Warrior and Family Support Center is now a beautiful 12,500-square-foot, three-acre property that rivals any place, anywhere, for the overall care and treatment of our service members.

The Returning Heroes Home Project designed the new center with a “living room” environment to provide all the comforts of home while the wounded warriors and their families are so far away from their own. This dedicated building includes a large social gathering area, kitchen facilities, a dining room, a learning facility for computerized training, a private counseling room, a business center with high-speed internet access, a game room, and spacious open front and back porch areas.

Since it was designed with wounded warriors’ requirements in mind, the facility is fully wheelchair-accessible, with an atmosphere that encourages healing. It retains the same “closeness” that was found in the former center at the Powless Guest House that allowed wounded warriors and their families to be in close contact with each other. In this new facility, wounded warriors and families are able to comfort and support each other by drawing upon their shared experiences for strength and understanding.

Wounded warriors and families are able to comfort and support each other by drawing upon their shared experiences for strength and understanding.

The current facility has since spawned similar efforts in several other communities near military medical centers. But the Warrior and Family Support Center at Ft. Sam Houston — Joint Base San Antonio, under the direction of Judith Markelz and her staff of volunteers — is still the gold standard.

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For those who haven’t had the chance to see it, either in person or through some of the media reports, let me tell you, the facility is an incredible place for our wounded warriors.

It’s a legacy for the people of this area to be proud of — a legacy that will continue as long as we have brave men and women who need our support. From the Thursday night bingo to those who volunteer their time and assistance, and others who provide tickets to local events, we’ve been showing our nation’s bravest for the past 14 years that they are not forgotten and their sacrifices are appreciated more than they’ll ever know.

When I was assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion to provide counseling service and instruction at the Warrior and Family Support Center, it was my distinct pleasure and honor to work and serve those who’ve given so much to our country. People would often thank me, but really — it’s truly about the warriors and how we can all make sure their service and sacrifice to our nation is appreciated, honored, and remembered.

Dr. Katherine (Kat) Harris is a veteran spouse, expat, and former military contractor with over 20 years of expertise in military/family transition, career counseling, higher education, organizational strategic planning, and international relations. An OpsLens contributor, she has conducted seminars and workshops for many Department of Army commands. This OpsLens article is used by permission.

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