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During a renaming ceremony Nov. 10, military leaders, government officials, staff and friends were on board for the dedication of the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, at Bethesda (WRNMMC), the world's largest military hospital with more than 2.4 million sq. ft. of clinical space, providing care to about a million beneficiaries per year.

Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC), which closed in late August, integrated with the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) to form the new facility. Roughly 2,200 additional medical and administrative personnel from the Army and Air Force joined Navy personnel to support the Base Realignment and Closure mandated by Congress in 2005.

Col. Charles Callahan, WRNMMC chief of staff led the ceremony, acknowledging, for many of those in the audience, there are personal moments and achievements to remember. "Today, we come together to celebrate all of them, as one staff, united on behalf of those we serve, taking aim together at the future and linking arms to ensure our patients and their families always remain the center of all our efforts - one team, one fight."

He continued that the ceremony was "a celebration of the gleaming new and renewed construction that surrounds us, the state of the art concepts and equipment that fills these buildings, the culture, the soul, [and] the invisible architecture that sets this facility, [and] this staff apart from every medical center in the nation, military or civilian."

"We also celebrate the boundless efforts and dedication of the men and women [who] made this moment a reality. Their efforts have set the standard for military medicine for the next century," he added. "The integration of two medical centers -- the two most powerful brand names in military medicine -- within state of the art facilities, heralds new beginnings, new shared challenges and achievements, and new memories while honoring the service, sacrifice, and vision of those who walk before us."

WRNMMC Commander, Rear Adm. Alton L. Stocks, who followed Callahan, expressed to the crowd his humility in representing the world's finest military medical staff, nearly 7,000 strong.

These staff members -- military, civilians and contractors -- have come together to build on the foundation of excellence from both the National Naval Medical Center and Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Stocks said. "Their expertise, dedication and compassion to years of caring for our nation's best, brightest and most deserving patients, has made today a reality. The future we looked forward to for many years has arrived," he said.

Stocks introduced the host and guest speaker, The Honorable Leon E. Panetta, Secretary of Defense, who stated, "Today, we observe the coming together of two very storied and historic institutions, each with a long legacy of serving those who serve this country in uniform."

This integrated facility now represents the crown jewel of the world's finest military medical system, he continued. While this center showcases the best medical technologies, facilities, and equipment, ultimately, it comes down to "people treating people."

"That's who I'd like to recognize this morning. As we dedicate this center, I extend my profound appreciation to all of the professionals of all the staff of our military medical community, especially all of you here today," said Panetta, leading the agency and managing human intelligence.

The new center not only provides for military retirees, but also current service members, he said, including those recovering from injuries on the battlefield, and those fighting personal wars, on a spectrum of illnesses.

"To these warriors, this nation owes an irredeemable debt, and we owe them a health care system second to none that is equipped to meet their needs," he said.

He noted that since 9/11, nearly 47,000 Americans have been wounded in action. "Our nation's wounded, our nation's ill, our nation's injured show remarkable fortitude, remarkable strength in the face of some huge obstacles, and they want nothing more than to recover and rejoin their units and chart a new path in life in service to this country. Today, we are honored to be joined by some of these brave American warriors."

In addition to serving warriors and veterans, he said, the facility will also provide for military families.

"Families are absolutely essential to those willing to put their lives on the line. Their love and support is not just critical to those who go into battle, it is absolutely essential for healing," he said.

He continued, "Today's ceremony is in many ways the culmination of more than a decade of effort and the scale of change has been truly staggering. Here at Bethesda, alone the transition has involved millions of feet of clinical space, numerous construction and renovation phases, hundreds of acres on several sites. Throughout this process, those who led this effort kept their singular focus on the care of patients and families. On behalf of the Department of Defense, let me thank you. Thank you all for ensuring a smooth transition at a time with extraordinarily high demand on our military medical facilities. I'm grateful you've done so without compromising the high standards of patient and family centered care, you truly have performed a small miracle in itself during this transition."

Panetta went on to say he has had the honor to participate in many ribbon cuttings, but has never had the chance to cut the ribbon for a place that saves lives.

"Today we do that, and in doing that, let me again thank you and extend my upmost gratitude to all of you working on behalf of those who sacrificed and serve this nation," he said.

Panetta concluded by noting the importance of continuing the advancement of warrior care.

"We can always find ways, as we will, to do better on their behalf. It's important we continue to focus on these issues of mental and psychological health and in promoting the overall well being of our patients," he said. "We will continue to focus on preventing injuries in the field by constantly improving our training our equipment and by learning the best practices, even as our troops carry out their vital missions in harm's way today. We've got to make sure we protect them in the future, for all of us today's dedication is another opportunity to renew our commitment and determination to do our duty for those who have served."

In support of the integration at WRNMMC, many new patient facilities and parking garages were constructed over the last three years, and several buildings were renovated. The America Building, among the new facilities, is the largest outpatient pavilion in DoD's inventory. Measuring 550,000 sq. ft., the building houses a cancer treatment center, pharmacy and several outpatient clinics, such as radiation oncology, orthopaedics, endocrinology, neurology, dermatology, and audiology. It also includes the Military Advanced Training Center (MATC) - made up of prosthetics, physical and occupational therapy - and a Fire Arms Training System. Additionally, the new 162,000 square-foot Arrowhead Building houses the Emergency Department and provides 50 inpatient Intensive Care Unit beds. It also has expanded Nuclear Medicine and Imaging, Cardiology and Interventional Imaging departments.

Building 17, a new 415,000 square-foot building, offers administrative and research spaces as well as a new fitness center, equipped with a full weight room, cardio room, Olympic-sized swimming pool and an elevated running track. In addition, the building has a 570-space underground parking garage. Additional parking was also built near the America Building - the America Garage, built for patient parking, is an eight-floor structure providing roughly 944 spaces and, near the Fisher Houses, a multi-use parking garage opened, offering 1,200 spaces.

The Fisher House program allows military families a place to stay, at no cost, while their loved one is in treatment. With three newly constructed Fisher Houses, there are now a total of five on base. Each of the three new 16,000 sq. ft., two-story buildings consists of 20 suites, which include private, handicapped-accessible bathrooms. Additionally, the houses have common areas, offering large communal dining and family rooms and a multi-cooking station kitchen.

Additionally, Tranquility Hall also opened this summer, offering ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant housing to wounded warriors in 153 suites. Each two-bedroom suite includes a kitchenette, washer and dryer, and a lounge area, allowing outpatients a place to stay with a non-medical attendant. The barracks also has an "Austin's Playroom," a drop-in child activity center, offering certified childcare providers for those staying in the barracks and personnel who need temporary day care while they're on medical appointments.

Dedicated to advancing clinical care, diagnosis, research and education of service members and their families, the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) opened in June 2010. The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund (IFHF) provided the center as a result of funding raised by the American citizens. The 72,000 square-foot building offers an interdisciplinary, holistic, patient and family based approached to care. During each patient's two to three week stay, they are afforded roughly 80 to 90 encounters with providers, advancing their treatment. In addition, the center offers leading technologies, including the Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment (CAREN), one of seven in the world, which features a motion platform, embedded treadmill, and a 180-degree screen, immersing the patient in a virtual environment, helping improve balance and ability to multi-task in the real world.

To continue meeting the needs of staff and patients at WRNMMC, the base has plans for an additional wounded warrior barracks, Sanctuary Hall, which will be constructed in a more secluded area on base near Building 141. The 200-bed facility will include a laundry room, day room and a communal kitchen, as well as another parking garage beside it, with roughly 460 spaces.

Additionally, a Navy Exchange (NEX) project is also underway. Expected to open at the end of 2012, the new, two-story 150,000 sq. ft. store will be more than three times the size of the previous one. It will have food courts with various dining options, a pharmacy, a satellite Navy Federal Credit Union office, barber and beauty shop, an optical department and a flower shop.

Amongst the renovations on base, Buildings 3 and 5 were also upgraded, as well as several operating rooms. A gate project is also in full swing to help ease the flow of traffic on and off base.