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New home for wounded warriors under way at Pendleton

Wounded warriors in the Wounded Warrior Battalion-West at Camp Pendleton soon will have a new place to call home.

A groundbreaking ceremony on Friday started what is expected to be a two or two-and-a-half year process to construct a campus focused on the wounded warrior.

Barnhart Inc., a Heery International Co., and hundreds of subcontractors will build a $23 million, 66,000-square-foot, two-story, 100-room bachelor enlisted quarters (BEQ) in a quiet part of the base overlooking Lake O’Neill as part of the first phase of campus construction.

The campus is expected to meet LEED Gold standards and be completed in March 2010.

Design and engineering services are being provided by Cass, Sowatsky, Chapman & Associates Architects.

Another site, amid the hustle and bustle of daily life on the base, also was considered.

The decision finally fell to Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert, who said he woke up one night, got out of bed and drove to the busier site.

He said it was nice, and there were good arguments for selecting that site.

“Then I came to this site, and there was (no sound except) frogs, insects and the wind,” he said. “It seemed like a place to heal.”

Barnhart plans to meet ADA accessibility standards in all rooms and incorporate a color scheme and design to enhance the healing process, said Sean Hulen, vice president at Barnhart.

“It will take Marines from surviving after injuries to thriving through recovery,” said Lt. Col Gregory Martin, commanding officer of Wounded Warrior Battalion-West.

Thriving is exactly what Marine Cpl. Samuel Reyes Jr. is doing.

He was injured during a suicide car bomb attack in Falluja while deployed to Iraq in 2004.

He suffered an injury in his abdomen, resulting in damage to many organs including his spleen, liver, lung, kidney and intestines.

He also injured his left arm; endured a loss of vision, taste and hearing; and could not walk.

After 18 months in the hospital, he thought he would be returning to his command. Instead, he joined the Wounded Warrior Battalion-West.

“Being here gave me the time to move at my own pace,” he said. “It’s a lot quieter. I was able to get a lot of rest.”

He said a sense of comfort is important for the barracks, which will be located near the exisiting barracks and close to the hospital.

Barnhart plans to build a comfortable home for the wounded warriors.

Rooms will include two full-size, extra-long beds, a wardrobe, desk, blackout drapes and other features to increase comfort. The design also will incorporate the lake and other natural surroundings.

The residents will share a kitchen, lounge area, library, open space, and a two-floor covered patio.

Caring for them is about more than just treating their wounds, Martin said. They must also focus on their mental and spiritual recovery.

To that end, a variety of services and resources will be available at the campus.

And with the help and support of the local community, as well as Navy and Marine services, the wounded warriors will have the tools necessary to thrive.

Looking at Reyes now, standing tall in his uniform, you would never guess what he has been through.

And last week, he signed on for another four years in the Marine Corps.

Reyes' story is one the Navy and Marine Corps hope will be the standard for other wounded warriors who recover at the new facility.

"This will give your Marines the best possible chance to go from surviving to thriving," Martin said.

Send your comments to Erin.Bridges@sddt.com

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