Staff Sgt. Kerry SolanKaiserslautern American

***image1***There was no better justification for the upgrades than the sight of 25 patients, gaming, eating, and laughing late into the night, said Katie Niebes.

She could tell, that first night, that the renovation was a success.

Mrs. Niebes, Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility USO manager, along with Gen. Tom Hobbins, U. S. Air Forces in Europe commander, opened the newly-expanded USO center May 16. The expansion was a final touch to the CASF’s permanent home, which opened Feb. 10.

“This was a vast improvement,” said Mrs. Niebes. “Before we didn’t have room for more than five or six patients in here.”

As part of the expansion, a wall gave way to a winter garden-type room, which, in turn led to other improvements: a patio, picnic and grill area. Donations bolstered the seating area, brought in guitars, gaming systems and more.

“It’s great that patients can come in here and just hang out,” said Mrs. Niebes. “This is often their home for three or four days, so we want to convey that atmosphere.”

The CASF’s staff provides medical care and support for patients flown into Ramstein from Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas. CASF personnel then help patients prepare to depart Germany for the United States on aeromedical evacuation flights. Ultimately, their job is to keep the patients as comfortable as possible.

“The upgrades to the USO facility really bring a touch of home for our wounded (servicemembers),” said Maj. Paul Langevin, CASF flight commander. “One Soldier commented, ‘I feel like I am sitting on my back porch. I am completely at ease here.’ To me, this is one of our biggest compliments.”

Capt. Rosalind Johnson, CASF administrator, sees the improvements as a way to say “thank you.”

“(This) lets us show how much we appreciate our heroes in their service to us and in helping keep us safe,” she said. “The … expansion is an excellent start to healing the wounds of war and allowing them to transition back to the family environment.”