Monday, December 05, 2011

Support Center is ‘Oasis’ for Wounded Warriors, Families

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

SAN ANTONIO, Dec. 5, 2011 – It’s only 10 a.m., but the Warrior and Family Support Center on Fort Sam Houston here is bustling.

Troops, some in wheelchairs and others heavily scarred, crowd around big-screen TVs to catch the latest sports news in the cavernous, sun-filled front room. In the kitchen up the hall, volunteers load baking sheets into ovens and the smell of fresh-baked cookies begins to waft through the air.

In a nearby craft room, a family gathers for a leather workshop. A triple-amputee soldier, dressed in jeans and a black cowboy hat, lays out a thin strip of leather onto a table as his brother, also a soldier, prepares to emboss a design.

The visitors here are a mix of civilian and military, from different backgrounds and services, but all come to the center with the same purpose in mind: to seek solace and support.

“The center is an oasis in the middle of a lot of things going on for [these troops],” said Judith Markelz, director of the Warrior and Family Support Center. “Everybody is welcome here, and no one notices anything. It’s a safe zone.”

This sprawling, 12,500-square-foot building -- completely funded through civilian donations -- opened in 2008 to offer wounded warriors and their families a place to connect and find emotional support, and to serve as a respite away from the rigors of recovery. It’s just steps away from Brooke Army Medical Center, where many combat-wounded service members are treated, and the Center for the Intrepid, a state-of-the art rehabilitation center.

Thanks to individuals and organizations’ generosity, the center offers wounded warriors and their families more than 100 free activities each month, including sporting events, movies, plays, concerts, shopping trips, lunches and dinners out, and fishing trips. Inside, it features a learning facility for computerized training, a counseling room, a business center, a video game room, a kids’ area, and a craft room popular among both family members and wounded warriors.

This day, military mom Saralee Trimble has stopped by to take a basket-weaving class. The busy work is soothing, she said, as she laid out thin strips of reed, and a healing break away from full-time care of her 19-year-old son, Army Pfc. Kevin Trimble. Her son lost his legs and an arm in a September roadside bomb blast in Afghanistan.

“The center helps you get a break from being hands-on with your soldier all the time,” she said. “It’s a place to go during appointments. It’s so important. I don’t know what I’d do without it.”

Trimble said she takes needlepoint projects from here to her son’s bedside.

“It fills the many hours I’m there,” she said.

The crafts are an asset, but to Markelz, the center’s focal point is the well-equipped, spacious kitchen. “Food is the universal language,” she said. “And to many of the service members, food is love.” Although early, she noted the kitchen already was packed with volunteers cooking breakfast for the troops and their families.

More than 140 volunteers from the community frequent the center to cook, conduct classes or spend time with service members, she said, and there’s always a waiting list of more people eager to help.

Each day, donations of food and other items stream through the door. Later on, four ladies would stop by with 40 dozen cookies.

“It’s like ‘Field of Dreams,’” Markelz said, referring to the 1989 movie. “If you build it, they will come. I think of something we need, and someone walks through my door. I’ve never had to ask for anything.”

When the Texas heat allows, visitors can walk the grounds, taking a path that meanders through a butterfly garden, barbecue pit, water features, and past a soon-to-be unveiled children’s playground.

The center’s impressive size and offerings belie its more humble beginnings.

Eight years ago, a committee of therapists, physicians and other helping professionals came to Fort Sam Houston’s Army Community Service, where Markelz worked at the time, in the hopes of creating a space where wounded warriors and their families could gather and find support. They asked her to run this new center, which they tucked away in conference rooms on the second floor of the Powless Hall Guest House here.

The Soldier and Family Assistance Center opened Dec. 8, 2003, and became an instant hit. But the need for more space soon became evident. As word spread of the center’s positive effects, community members looking to help stepped in.

Through donations and the Returning Heroes Home project, the support center moved from a 1,200-square-foot area to its new $5.6 million home, and reopened Dec. 8, 2008.

Next up for the center is Phase 2, also funded through donations. The outdoor therapeutic garden and recreation area is slated to open in March 2012 and will feature a track, beach volleyball, fitness stations and Frisbee golf.

Since the center’s early days, Markelz -- known to many simply as “Mom” -- has seen thousands of warriors and family members come through its doors. Closest to her heart, she said, are the families of service members who die here and the families of service members who walk out of here with no legs, “but they walk out of here.”

These families “become part of my life; all of our lives,” she added.

Family members sacrifice everything to be by their loved one’s side, Markelz said. “I have never seen anything like this. They lose their jobs, their cars, their medical care, their houses, but when you ask them why, they say the same thing: ‘That’s what you do for your child.’ They are my heroes.”

She cited Trimble, the triple-amputee soldier’s mom, as just one example among many. Trimble left her home and her husband behind, and will be here for about two years aiding her son.

“I’ve never heard her complain,” she said. “She’s simply grateful her son is alive.”

The wars may be drawing down, but that won’t mark the end of the need here, Markelz noted. Wounded warriors and their families will continue to need help for years to come.

“We just can’t forget these young men and women and their families. They are the best of the best and we owe them, all of them,” she said.

As soon as she’s done speaking, Markelz rushes off. She has a long list of things to do and a phone that never stops ringing. She wears many hats as director: counselor, friend, mom and, more recently, wedding planner.

A scenic locale out back has become a popular wedding site for wounded warriors, and the center soon will mark its 28th wedding. Each bride gets a new dress -- 61 were donated three years ago -- a bouquet and cake.

“Weddings are a celebration of life,” Markelz said. “It goes on.”

Z-Z-1-3 Keeps Bahrain Sailors ARI Free

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tracey L. Whitley, U.S. 5th Fleet Public Affairs

MANAMA, Bahrain (NNS) -- U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) Commander, Vice Adm. Mark I. Fox, stressed the importance of "Z-Z-1-3" as part of a U.S. 5th Fleet alcohol awareness campaign during an all hands call, Dec. 1.

"Z-Z-1-3" is defined as zero alcohol-related incidents (ARI), zero driving under the influence (DUI), no more than one drink per hour and no more than three drinks per evening.

Throughout the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility (AOR), many countries prohibit alcohol and some enforce a 0.00 BAC when driving. In Bahrain, 0.01 BAC is considered a DUI. The public consumption of alcohol is prohibited between midnight and 6:00 a.m., seven days a week, by all U.S. Naval personnel, civilian employees and contractors throughout the region.

As representatives of the United States serving overseas, the consequences of an ARI extend beyond that of the individual Sailor. An ARI can not only hurt a Sailor's career, but also affect the relationship between the U.S. and a host nation.

"Any incident involving alcohol can jeopardize our mission readiness and affect our regional relationships. Liberty is a mission in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility and we must ensure that we are good ambassadors of the United States and the U.S. Navy," said Fox. "I expect all personnel to be good shipmates - follow Z-Z-1-3, and adhere to the command alcohol policy."

Alcohol abuse weakens combat readiness, is incompatible with the high standards expected of military personnel and puts the safety and welfare of Sailors and families at risk. Alcohol is also a well-known contributing factor in safety mishaps, sexual assaults and domestic disputes, which in many instances could have been avoided.

"Everyone is accountable to each other, to ensure that our shipmates, both military and civilian, are acting responsibly when they drink," said Master Chief Mark Tomlinson, NAVCENT Staff Command Master Chief. "The "Z-Z-1-3" AOR Alcohol Awareness Campaign is a good method to remember zero alcohol-related incidents, zero driving under the influence, no more than one drink per hour and no more than three drinks per evening."

Tomlinson added that if an individual, friend, family member, or shipmate struggles with alcohol-related issues, they should not hesitate to seek help.

"The Navy or your shipmates will not stigmatize an individual for seeking assistance. Resources are available for personnel and family members, including chaplains, medical specialists, Alcoholics Anonymous, and the command DAPA," said Tomlinson.

With the holiday season in full swing, Sailors may be more inclined to indulge in alcoholic beverages while engaging with family and friends at holiday outings and parties. However, Sailors stationed here have other opportunities to enjoy themselves that don't involve drinking, including community service, academic classes, working out, and sports.

Although there are many tools in place to avoid irresponsible drinking, ultimately it is up to each individual Sailor to make good decisions. By having a plan in place before going out, walking instead of driving or utilizing a designated driver, Sailors can have a good time and still get home safely.

DOD Reflects on 40 Years of Diversity Training

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2011 – It’s been 40 years since the military began training troops to accept each others’ differences and get along. And if anyone questions the value of diversity training, they need only to consider how much things have changed since it began, the director of the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute says.

“When we started in the ’70s, the armed forces were faced with behaviors that really were drastic in nature,” Ronald M. Joe told American Forces Press Service in a Nov. 28 interview. “We had folks who were fighting each other. There were race riots, and physical violence in the armed forces, with one service member against another.”

The institute was created in 1971 as the Defense Race Relations Institute to quell the tensions. DOD officials thought their mission would be accomplished in three years, Joe said. “But because we deal with human beings, because we are dealing with a microcosm of the United States, … we are constantly having to train folks to be able to get along with one another … and valuing our differences and how they aid us in accomplishing our missions,” he said.

As the institute has continued to evolve, Joe said, more focus has been placed on removing barriers, understanding command climate and developing strategies to enhance workplace performance. Equal opportunity professionals help unit commanders appreciate the different perspectives each soldier, sailor, airman and Marine brings to the organization and how to leverage that talent to achieve the missions at hand. DEOMI, as it is known, has graduated more than 40,000 military and civilian students.

When the institute observes its 40th anniversary during its 8th biennial research symposium Dec. 6-8, more than 400 people are expected at its Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., campus to learn about the latest research and take part in panel discussions about diversity, inclusion, equity and cultural competence, Joe said.

For Joe and the other DEOMI professionals, their work is all about mission readiness.

“I like to refer to DEOMI as a national treasure,” he said. “I think this is the only organization in the DOD that does what it does, and probably the only one in the world. Our mission is all about readiness.”

Since its establishment DEOMI has moved beyond just keeping the peace, Joe said, to breaking down institutional barriers to advancement and drafting policies to promote equal opportunity, inclusion and value for cross-cultural competencies such as foreign language and cultural skills.

As the institute changes with the times, he said, it must stay true to its roots. The military has proven itself a model for inclusion and equal opportunity, he added, and must continue to do so.

“Our armed forces have been a real leader in showing how people can work together and live together regardless of differences,” Joe said.

“There has been great deal of progress,” he added. “People in our armed forces are much more caring about each other, and much more focused on the mission” than in the institute’s early days.


Deserving Young Patriots Will Win $5,000

SAN ANTONIO – Operation Homefront today announced the opening of the 2012 Military Child of the Year Award nomination period.  The award will be given to an outstanding children of military personnel from each Service – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.  The winners, who each will receive $5,000, will be flown with a parent or guardian to Washington, D.C., for special recognition ceremony on April 5, 2012.  Nominations are being accepted online until January 15, 2012 at  

Ideal candidates for the Military Child of the Year Award demonstrate resilience and strength of character, and thrive in the face of the challenges of military life.  They demonstrate leadership within their families and within their communities.

“The sons and daughters of America’s service members learn what patriotism is at a very young age,” said Jim Knotts, chief executive officer, Operation Homefront.  “Children in military families understand sacrifice and live with the concept of service.  This is what the Military Child of the Year Award honors.”

Nominees must:

           Must have valid military ID or currently be enrolled in DEERS
           Must be between the ages of 8-18
           Must be able to travel to Washington, D.C., for the ceremony on April 5, 2012

Finalists must have a background check to confirm the information provided in the nomination and must provide references.

Recipients of the 2011 awards are profiled in the book “Our Youngest Heroes,” available through