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Donna Miles, Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs
WASHINGTON - 09.28.2010 More than 100 residents at the Armed Forces Retirement Home here are packing up to move back into a brand-new complex in Gulfport, Miss., that replaces the facility that was destroyed five years ago by Hurricane Katrina.
Emotions are running high as the 135 residents prepare to leave AFRH-Washington Oct. 4, 2010, and along with it, the deep friendships they've forged during the past five years, spokeswoman Sheila Abarr told American Forces Press Service.
About 40 residents that are driving rather than flying to their new home already are en route, planning to be among the first to check into the new building, she said.
The Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport evacuated 416 of its residents Aug. 30, 2005, after Hurricane Katrina decimated the complex. Some buildings were knocked to the ground and the steel-and-concrete perimeter around the facility was destroyed.
Many of the residents rode out Katrina at the facility before moving in with family members in the area or taking up residence at the Washington home within 72 hours of the hurricane.
Henry Pike, who was among those residents who experienced Katrina's wrath firsthand, said he's looking forward to finally returning home. "All along, I've posted construction photos and updates on the new home and the residents have literally been counting down the days," he said.
The residents will move into a modern four-tower complex, located on 47 acres of prime waterfront. The new facility features dining, social, recreational and therapeutic activities, including a swimming pool, hobby shops, a wellness center with basic dental and eye care, a bank, a barber and beauty shop, a bowling center, as well as a movie theater, computer room, library and a pedestrian bridge to the beach.
Residents' personal rooms include a full bathroom, kitchenette and balcony, Abarr said. The incoming residents have selected their rooms, based on seniority at the facility. Louis Nemec got the honors of being the first to choose.
"The new Gulfport home is an incredible advance in how AFRH provides senior housing for our nation's heroes," said Tim Cox, chief operating officer for AFRH. "In addition to providing state-of-the-art facilities, we have also partnered with the local community to provide additional services for our residents."
A day-long "Glory on the Gulf" celebration on Nov. 9, 2010, will mark the official opening of the new facility.
While sad to see their Gulfport neighbors leave, residents at AFRH-Washington are looking forward to a new common-area building to be built next year, Abarr said. The facility will provide dining facilities, arts and crafts and other activities under one roof, making them more convenient and accessible for residents, she said.
Both AFRH facilities are operated exclusively for war veterans and retired service members from all branches of the U.S. military. Residents must be at least 60 years old, but the average age is 81, Abarr said.
Congress established a home for destitute Navy officers, sailors and Marines in Philadelphia during the War of 1812, and the facility eventually moved to Gulfport. In the mid-1800s, Congress established an asylum for old and disabled soldiers in Washington, D.C., which later became the U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home.
Although the facilities operated separately for many years, Congress passed a law in the early 1990s combining the two facilities into the Armed Forces Retirement Home.
Both communities can house more than 1,300 residents in five levels of care, from independent living to long-term care. Each facility offers a nine-hole golf course, fitness center, walking trails, hobby shops, entertainment, and bus trips.
Every active-duty service member helps support both facilities through 50-cent-a-month payroll deduction.