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Fort Bragg projects set to break ground

Two national nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping troops and their families will break ground on Fort Bragg projects this week.

The Fisher House Foundation and the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund are separate organizations founded by the same family.

Both are dedicated to the wellbeing of the U.S. military. Officials from both organizations will be on Fort Bragg this week to celebrate projects aimed at increasing their impact on the Army's largest post.

Today, the Fisher House Foundation will break ground on a new Fisher House, which provides a free place to stay for military families visiting loved ones at Womack Army Medical Center or in Fort Bragg's Warrior Transition Battalion.

The new facility will replace the existing Fort Bragg Fisher House on the corner of Normandy Drive and Reilly Road.

On Friday, officials from the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund will break ground on the newest National Intrepid Center of Excellence Satellite Center. The Fort Bragg center will be the fourth of nine centers planned for military installations that will specifically treat traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress.

Today's event is scheduled for 11 a.m. on the Womack Army Medical Center campus, where the new Fisher House will be built.

Lorie Southerland, who manages the Fort Bragg Fisher House, said the new home will be bigger and more convenient for veterans and their families.

The new house will be closer to Womack, and it will be handicap accessible.

The original Fort Bragg Fisher House opened in 1993. It is a two-story house, meaning some guests with special needs can't access the entire facility.

The house's seven rooms are frequently filled to capacity, Southerland said.

The house sees between 25 and 30 visitors a month and spends 77 percent of the year full, she said.

The new house will have 12 rooms, said Ken Fisher, CEO of the Fisher House Foundation. It will have a new design that allows for a bigger kitchen and living and dining areas.

"We're very excited about it," Fisher said. "The whole feeling of the house will change. What won't change is the support."

Fisher said the new home will be 10,000 square feet, but the space will be presented in such a way to encourage the interaction and intimacy that guests have come to expect.

"The feeling of family will never change," he said.

Past guests are excited about the new building.

Jo Ellen Marlow stayed at the house for 2 weeks in March, after her son, Andrew Wilson, was injured in Afghanistan.

Marlow, who traveled from West Virginia, said she was surprised by what she found at the Fisher House, which provided food, a bed and a place to do laundry.

"I didn't have to worry about anything but my son," she said. "It helped, knowing I had a place to stay. knowing that there was a hot meal waiting."

"I expected a hotel," Marlow said. "I didn't expect what I saw when I got there. It was not that at all. . It was home. I would have been lost without them."

Fort Bragg's National Intrepid Center of Excellence will be built on Longstreet Road, near the Womack campus's northern edge.

Dave Winters, president of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, said the center will eventually be the fourth built by the organization, which opened centers at Camp Lejeune and Fort Belvoir, Va., last year. A third center is under construction at Fort Campbell, Ky.

The Fort Bragg center was jump-started by a $500,000 donation from the Military Order of the Purple Heart Foundation, officials said.

The $11 million, 25,000-square-foot building will be dedicated to treating traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, Winters said.

The building will be donated to Fort Bragg following its construction.

"It's a huge, huge problem facing our troops," he said. "But it's not easily diagnosed, treated or understood."

The center will host an outpatient program to treat wounded troops, with some of the treatment based on research at the original National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Winters said officials anticipate at least 1,000 patients a year at the center, although he said that number may be a low estimate.

Beside their origins, the two organizations share other similarities.

Officials from both groups have the goal of putting themselves out of business.

"I live for the day that I'm out of a job," Fisher said.

Winters said traumatic brain injury was the latest challenge tackled by his organization, which began by providing financial assistance to the families of fallen troops, then built the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio to treat soldiers who were severely burned or lost limbs in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We want to do more," Winters said of his organization's changing focus over the years. "Where can we help now?"

The Fisher House Foundation and the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund are supported by donations. Both organizations are still raising money for the two Fort Bragg projects.

For information on how to donate, go to fisherhouse.org or fallenheroesfund.org.

 brooksd@fayobserver.com .

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