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Road to recovery leads through WFSC's Freedom Park

By Staff Sgt. Keith Anderson | U.S. Army North Public Affairs | Aug. 23, 2012

JBSA-FORT SAM HOUSTON — For wounded warriors and their families, there is a new destination for exercise and meditation; and it doesn't require travel outside the confines of Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.

Construction of the multi-million dollar, six-acre "Freedom Park" at the WFSC has been completed and is now open day and night. A one-mile running track winds through 10 specialized outdoor fitness areas, a beach volleyball court, waterfalls, statues and a wishing well.

The park, built by the non-profit organization "Returning Heroes Home," is shaded for protection from the sun for burn victims and is accessible by wheelchair.

The park officially celebrates its grand opening in October, which will feature a concert from a well-known country musician in the new 300-seat amphitheater.

Although some of the late-season plants have not yet been planted, it is available for use now, said WFSC program director Judith Markelz.

"The fitness stations were designed with help from the therapists at the Center for the Intrepid, specifically for the needs of our wounded warriors," Markelz said.

"There's even one station specifically for the needs of wounded Special Forces service members. The park is available now, and the track is lighted for night use. We are also putting up emergency call stations."

The park, funded entirely through private donations, is already making an impact.

"It makes you forget you're in Texas," said Staff Sgt. Gilbert Santiago, a squad leader with Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 124th Cavalry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard, who was injured while at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Africa. "It invites butterflies and wildlife. It makes you feel like you're in another place."

For Sgt. 1st Class Fran O'Bannon, who was serving as a recruiter in Omaha, Neb., when she was involved in an automobile accident that caused several injuries as well as persistent migraines, the park is a calming environment.

"You don't know if your career is going to come to a halt, and you have your family to worry about," O'Bannon said. "That nature walk puts you in a calm state, a better relaxation mode."

The completion of the Freedom Park is phase II of a three-phase project to upgrade the Warrior and Family Support Center. Phase III is the addition of a baseball park and a Frisbee golf course.

The Warrior and Family Support Center, which has had more than 620,000 individual visits since it began operating in 2003, provides a comfortable, welcoming and friendly environment for wounded warriors and their families to relax, have fun, participate in activities and find support as they transition to their new normal.