EGLIN AFB — Ground was broken Thursday for an Intrepid Spirit Center, a 25,000-square-foot, $11 million medical facility dedicated to diagnosing and treating post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury among active-duty military personnel at installations across the region.
The center, expected to be completed sometime next year, is the eighth of 10 centers built and planned by the nonprofit Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, and is the first to be located on an Air Force base. Like all of the other Intrepid Spirit Centers, the Eglin AFB-located center, built with private donations, will be open to members of all branches of the military services.
The Eglin-based center will feature the latest in brain technology and treatment facilities. As with all other Intrepid Spirit centers, when the Eglin-based center is built, it will be turned over to the Department of Defense for operation and management.
"It's not charity," Arnold Fisher, senior partner in the New York-based real-estate firm Fisher Brothers, and honorary chairman of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, said of the centers before Thursday's ceremony. "It's a duty as an American."
During his formal remarks at the groundbreaking, addressing his work with the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, Fisher surveyed the crowd filled with active-duty military personnel, and said, "I'm looking at why I do it."
Also on hand for the groundbreaking was Gen. David Goldfein, chief of staff of the Air Force. Reminding the crowd of military personnel, local civilian leaders, and Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund officials and donors, Goldfein noted that tens of thousands of military personnel are dealing with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.
"Thanks to the generosity of many Americans, we're now at a place where we can start providing that care," he said.
Eglin AFB already is involved in addressing post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. Last year, the base opened its Invisible Wounds Center, and the Intrepid Spirit Center will dramatically expand the base's role in that medical treatment arena.
"Now, we're just trying to get out of their way," Brig. Gen. Evan Dertien, commander of Eglin's 96th Test Wing, said lightheartedly in a reference to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund at the groundbreaking ceremony. Personnel from the base's 96th Medical Group also were on-hand Thursday.
Dr. Thomas Piazza, director of Eglin's Invisible Wounds Center, called the groundbreaking "a very exciting day for us."
"Our goal is to make you proud, and to be great stewards of this gift," Piazza pledged to the Thursday crowd.
Also, Piazza said, Eglin is "proud to join this family of TBI facilities and are grateful to the American citizens who have so generously supported the health are and healing of our active-duty service members through the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund."
The ceremony also included remarks from Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Brogan, a joint terminal attack controller stationed at Hurlburt Field. Brogan sought help from the Invisible Wounds Center after nine combat rotations, when his family, and eventually he, noticed changes in his behavior and attitudes.
Those kinds of multiple deployments can present particular treatment challenges, according to Piazza, because "in most cases, the number of injuries will pile up over time."
Brogan is enthusiastic about the Intrepid Spirit Center coming to Eglin AFB.
"Some of us are battle-damaged, but we are not unserviceable," he said, noting that his own treatment has meant that he has been able to continue to serve his country.
At the Invisible Wounds Center, Brogan took advantage of acupuncture treatments, music and art therapy, and even yoga, even though he admitted to some initial skepticism about those approaches.
"Guys like me, we jump out of airplanes, we break things," said Brogan, with his wife, Sybrina, sitting nearby in the crowd. "We certainly don't paint and color and draw."
But, he quickly added, "I was wrong."
In an interview following the groundbreaking, Brogan said he sees the Invisible Wounds Center, and will see the Intrepid Spirit Center, as continuing resources for him. And, he said, he believes the expansion of post-traumatic stress and brain injury treatment services at Eglin will encourage more of the military personnel dealing with those issues to seek help.
"It will make it more acceptable, and more open," Brogan said.
Also helping in that regard, Piazza said in an interview following the groundbreaking, is the fact that military leaders are encouraging personnel who they believer might be suffering with invisible wounds to seek treatment.
"Leadership is increasingly more supportive of them getting help," Piazza said.