By Emily Baker
Killeen Daily Herald
The news of Monday's opening of a rehabilitation center for wounded soldiers at Brooke Army Medical Center was welcomed by Central Texans and lauded by two 2008 presidential hopefuls.
In addition to Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain, the other 3,200 people attending the dedication ceremony at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio included Gen. Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
But, of the more than 20,000 soldiers injured since the start of the Iraq war, the rehabilitation center was built primarily to help the 500 soldiers who have lost a limb – most to roadside bombs – lead as full a life as possible.
With its rock climbing wall, wave pool and virtual reality computer system, the $50 million Center for the Intrepid might be mistaken for an amusement center if not for its serious purpose.
Copperas Cove City Councilman Fred Harris organized a golf tournament that helped raise $10,000 to contribute to the center.
"I have seen some real traumatic wounds from the soldiers now who probably would have died in other wars," Harris told the Herald in July, when he organized the tournament. "We need bigger space, better equipment and bigger rehab centers."
Staff Sgt. Jon Arnold-Garcia, who lost part of a leg in a grenade attack, was one of the patients at the center. He will be getting treatment at the new center and said he was awestruck when he got his first look at it on Sunday.
"It doesn't look like a hospital," said the 28-year-old from Sacramento, Calif. "It's a place I can see myself getting up and being motivated instead of walking hospital hallways with doctors."
In previous wars, the military only provided acute care to amputees and other severely wounded soldiers before giving the Department of Veterans Affairs charge of rehabilitation.
Since 2003, the military has taken a more active role in amputee rehab with programs now operating at the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston as well as at Walter Reed Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Medical Center.
Local response to the rehabilitation center's dedication was upbeat and thankful.
"This is a really good thing," said Don Jones, president of the Central Texas-Fort Hood Chapter of the Association of the United States Army. "I'm happy to hear of it."
The center was paid for largely with donations, including money from Central Texas. The private donations were made to the Intrepid Foundation, a charity that has built dozens of houses to shelter families of wounded soldiers while they undergo treatment.
As part of the construction at Fort Sam Houston, two new houses have been added to two already there so that additional families can be housed near the center.
The Fort Sam Houston medical center treats the second- highest number of war wounded after Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
The local chapter of the soldier advocacy organization has identified a need to help wounded troops and investigated how best to do that, Jones said.
"We wanted to get more involved in the wounded warrior program," Jones said Monday. "We thought, What would they like to have?' We thought about phone cards, but they already have $100,000 worth of phone cards. We were looking into crossword puzzles and some other things."
Jones learned wounded soldiers wanted to wear something to rehabilitation sessions that identified with what unit they serve. So, he had hats and T-shirts made to give to the soldiers.
A $3,500 initial donation has helped to purchase hats and T-shirts for the 1st Cavalry Division's wounded. The division has been deployed to Iraq since last fall.
The hats contain a 1st Cavalry patch, a Purple Heart and the American flag and the words "Live the Legend." The T-shirts also have a patch and Purple Heart on them with the words "America's First Team."
Plans are in the works for developing similar items for the 4th Infantry Division and other commands at Fort Hood, Jones said. Donations are needed to get supplies for the other commands and to continue providing the items for 1st Cavalry soldiers.
Checks can be mailed to Central Texas-Fort Hood Chapter, Association of the United States Army, P.O. Box 10700, Killeen, TX 76547. Indicate on the check that the money is for the wounded warrior program.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Emily Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org