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WASHINGTON — Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s remaining patients will leave the Maryland hospital early Saturday to beat the Washington arrival of Hurricane Irene, a powerful storm that could leave blocked roads and nonfunctioning traffic lights in its wake.

Over several hours, ambulances will carry the approximately 30 wounded and sick troops five miles north to Bethesda National Naval Medical Center, the site of the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Prior to the threatening Irene forecasts, the move had been planned for next week.

Following the transfer, Army officials will lower Walter Reed’s flag. It will signal the final closure of the 102-year-old facility, which was designated for elimination in 2005 as a cost-saving measure under the Base Closure and Realignment, or BRAC, process. The transition, however, cost about $2.6 billion rather than an earlier estimate of around $1 billion.

In addition to the 30 inpatients, more than 220 outpatients have transferred to Warrior Transition brigades at Bethesda and at the new Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in northern Virginia, said Walter Reed spokesman Chuck Dasey.

Of Walter Reed’s nearly 6,000 employees, about two-thirds are transferring to Bethesda, with the remainder relocating to Fort Belvoir.

It will be an emotional transition for some, but the employees are ready for the move, Dasey said.

“Most people are glad we’re finally at moving day,” he said. “The preparations for this have been going on for years.”

The Army BRAC office will take possession of the Walter Reed campus, which will be divided between the U.S. State Department and the city of Washington.

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, which will be staffed by Army, Navy and Air Force personnel, is set to officially open its doors in September. The facility will have 345 hospital beds, 50 intensive care beds and 20 operating rooms, officials said.

carrollc@stripes.osd.milTwitter: ChrisCarroll_

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