Ft Sam and Brook Army Medical Center Complex

by Celia Hayes

Having been in pretty good health over the last two or three years, it has been that long since I had to make an appointment to see a doctor – which since I am a military retiree, usually meant a long trek into the wilds of Brooke Army Medical Center, or BAMC – or as I liked to call it 'the world's largest red-brick Skinner box'. I was better acquainted with the grounds around it though; during a time when I worked in an office nearby. During my lunch hour, I used to walk across the street, flash my retiree ID at the gate, and walk briskly around the footpath which circuited the grounds – skirting the parking lot at the top of the hill, around the back of the tall brick structure, down to the complex of new dormitories, the park at the bottom of the hill, around past where the original Fisher Houses are, and where they were building a pair of new ones, the bright and shiny new dome of the state of the art rehab center, up the hill past the helicopter landing pad, and a wide and empty grass field and back to the gate again.

All that has changed since I worked that job – and I probably couldn't walk anything like the same route today. The empty field has been filled in with an extension to the main building of practically the same size, and a huge parking garage. Now there are apparently twice the numbers of employees coming onto the BAMC complex daily as there were when I last went in for a routine appointment ... so, I was not much looking forward negotiating the acres of parking lot and miles of corridor. But now it seems that the routine outpatient clinic has moved out of BAMC altogether and into it's own bright and shiny building on Fort Sam itself. This, I feared, would not be an improvement. Fort Sam has been overtaken by changes too.

For those couple of years after I retired in 1997, I thought that Fort Sam was definitely getting pretty shabby. I would drive through and notice that the old warehouses and loading docks were looking exceedingly crumbly, and even the stolid old Spanish-colonial style blocks of dormitories and administrative buildings had the paint peeling off them in sheets. What was the Army coming to, I would wonder, that they couldn't even send out the troops to slap another coat of paint on those buildings? The old hospital building looked like one of those mock structures that fire departments practice in, and it all looked dispiritingly shabby. Such were the benefits of the peace dividend, and the end of the Cold War.

Such have been the vagaries of current events and the realigning of military missions that things are also looking up on Fort Sam itself. This I discovered, finding my way to an appointment last week at the outpatient medical center, for treatment of a persistent bronchial cough. New units have moved in, the old buildings repurposed, scrubbed up and revitalized – and a number of new ones added to the current inventory. Among them was the brand-spanking-new outpatient clinic, as modern and up to the minute as anything that I ever saw on an Air Force base – which, as the Air Force was the newest of the armed services, usually featured built-to-purpose and relatively modern buildings, rather than the Army or the Navy's usual century-plus relics. I don't know what will happen next at Fort Sam – but I am pretty well certain that General Eisenhower and all those other Army officers who passed through early in the last century would not recognize much of it at all.