ARLINGTON, Va. -- Returning home from deployment, sometimes battered physically and mentally, servicemembers often need a safe place to ease back into everyday life. The USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., which officially opened Tuesday, is exactly that.
“This building will do so much good for our servicemembers and our families at a time when they really need it,” Lt. General William Troy, director of the Army staff, told Stars and Stripes on Tuesday. “This kind of facility makes people feel like they are welcome, they are supported.”
The spacious two-story building -- staffed by volunteers and also open to retirees -- provides everything except a hospital to help a soldier adjust to being home, away from the constant sounds of war. It’s the largest USO center in the United States, a 20,000-square-foot building that cost $12.2 million -- funded by private donations and large corporations including Lowe’s, JC Penney and the Coca-Cola Foundation. A large portion of the donation came from the Kuwait ambassador to the United States, Salem Al-Sabah and his wife, Rima.
“If it weren’t for the U.S. Armed Forces, I wouldn’t be here today as a representative of a free and sovereign nation,” he said.
Walking into the center is a welcoming experience, with its open layout, tall wooden ceilings and a fireside lounge. A golden chandelier hangs from the ceiling and art by soldiers decorates most of the walls.
On the second floor, there are seven main rooms. In one, guitars and a keyboard are neatly displayed for servicemembers who want to rock out and cut a jam or two in the soundproof room. In the theater room, there are comfy seats for 12, with options that include free movies, TV shows and televised sporting events. There’s also space for servicemembers recovering from wounds to video-conference with their families back home. The Game Room is decked out with eight 32-inch flat-screen televisions with built-in speakers and controls. XBox is the gaming system of choice.
“Healing is about more than what happens in an operating room. And it involved more than just a servicemember him or herself. It involves the whole family,” USO president and CEO Sloan Gibson said Tuesday at the ribbon-cutting. “As you start to understand that, you realize the need for a place like this.”
The facility also includes a learning lounge, business center, classroom, study, community room, dining room and kitchen, family room and sports lounge. Outside, there is a grill and gardens for meditation and healing.
“Those coming back I’m not sure necessarily realize it, but your family is a big part of your healing, to have your family close by and being part of your healing process,” said Col. Gregory Gadson, the commander at Fort Belvoir.
Gadson, who was injured in 2007, commuted to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C, while living at Fort Belvoir. He is a double amputee who lost his legs above the knee after a roadside bomb exploded in Iraq.
“I understand how clearly having this space and an area where we can all be around each other is important,” he said. “This is a place you want to build to call home, and that’s the idea.”