Wounded at Landstuhl have a new place to play, relax

LANDSTUHL, Germany — Pfc. Eric Small, 27, had a couple bad days in a row — 15 makeshift bombs in less than 48 hours.

"We didn’t get hit by all of them," he said. "We detonated some of them."

It was the last two that got him a ticket to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where his days are occupied by doctor appointments and lots and lots of waiting around. "I just hang out in my room," he said.

He doesn’t have to do that anymore.

Less than 12 weeks after the first trees on a wooded lot between two former barracks buildings at Landstuhl were cleared, a new USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl opened Tuesday.

"I’ll come over here," Small said. "There’s a lot of good things to do. Usually anytime the USO puts something in it’s pretty good."

The Warrior Center, as it’s called, features numerous video game systems, free telephone and Internet service, a kitchen and dining area, a lounge and free video teleconferencing, to enable wounded troops to speak nearly face-to-face with loved ones back home.

Sgt. Sheena M. Whitney, who is at the hospital to receive treatment for a back injury, got a surprise Tuesday when her mom, sister and dog popped up on the teleconference screen during a tour of the facility.

"Is that my mom?" she asked. "Is that my dog? Hi Mom," said the soldier, a member of the 1st Battalion, 148th Infantry Regiment. Her mom, Leatha, cried a little from her home in Millersport, Ohio.

"I’m still whole," Whitney assured her mom.

Five Medal of Honor recipients attended the event after meeting Monday with wounded servicemembers and seeing them off Tuesday morning as they were shipped back to the U.S. for more treatment.

Robert Howard, a retired Army colonel, spoke briefly during the ribbon-cutting for the USO, and joked that his son, a young corporal, had just returned from Afghanistan where he’d hidden behind a tent for 15 months. Actually, he admitted, his son had been wounded, but recovered.

He said the USO always treats him well — even if he is an old, retired colonel — giving him a free cup of coffee that actually tastes like coffee.

Gen. Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Army Europe and Seventh Army, recalled his early experience with the USO as a young private first class wandering around National Airport in Washington, D.C. Someone told him to go to the USO, so he did, "And I found I was home," he said. "And that’s what the USO is, whether you’re a young Pfc., or an old general; the USO is home."