Filling Their Needs: A Look Back at How the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir was Conceived

At the end of every journey, it’s always interesting to look back and see how you got there.


The USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., will officially open Feb. 5. USO photo by Eric Brandner

The USO ends a very small part of its Warrior and Family Care journey on Feb. 5, when it officially opens its first Warrior and Family Center. The Fort Belvoir, Va.-based center – the largest center the USO has ever constructed – will be a home away from home for wounded, ill and injured troops during their recoveries.

In most ways, the ribbon cutting will be a day of firsts. But there was a lot of analysis before the first shovel was stuck in the ground.

The USO and STUDIOS Architecture conducted extensive research in 2010 to develop a strategy for not just what the building would look like, but also what services it would offer. Here are three of those findings – and their resulting implementations. 

  • The 2010 Tell USO Survey asked wounded, ill and injured troops to rank a list of needs according to their level of importance. The item receiving the largest percentage of “very important” responses was access to “online college and professional development classes.” The USO responded by working with STUDIOS to design the Learning Center, a four-room setup inside the Warrior and Family Center that brings the connectivity and resources of a university library to their campus. Free computer and Internet access in the Classroom – along with an interactive white board and space for guest lecturers – should make taking a variety of online and in-person classes easy. The Study and Learning Center Office offer private spaces for interviews, career counseling or more intimate learning experiences. Meanwhile, the Learning Center Lounge provides open space for group activities.
  • Hundreds of thousands of troops who deployed to the Mideast since 2001 have returned suffering from varying degrees of post-traumatic stress. This can lead to anxiety issues, especially in crowded, public spaces. The architects at STUDIOS identified this as a potential problem early in the design process and addressed it by making large, open, multipurpose spaces. The Warrior and Family Center will be flooded with natural light through several windows, adding to the open feel. In correlation, the structure emphasizes natural elements like an exposed wood ceiling and a stone fireplace. The natural light and design features are the antithesis of the top two things Tell USO survey respondents didn’t want to see in the centers: artificial plants and florescent lights.
  • At the time of our initial research, four out of five wounded, ill and injured troops lived on or near the installation where they’re receiving treatment. However, at least two in five of those troops didn’t have easily accessible kitchens. Well, no one’s going to go hungry at the Warrior and Family Center. The sizable kitchen features around-the-clock access to snacks and beverages, along with a stout offering of staples and appliances to cook with. The handicap-accessible space will also host cooking classes for recovering troops and their caregivers who are looking not only for new dinner ideas, but also for tips on navigating the kitchen after a physical injury.

–Story by Eric Brandner, USO Director of Story Development


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