The Villages’ booming veteran population is a big part of the community fabric, and six just-announced Honor Flight missions show the community’s appreciation for their service.

Honor Flight is a program that ferries veterans to the war memorials in Washington, D.C. at no cost to veterans. They also provide “flightless” missions for veterans who are no longer able to travel.

Almost 20,000 veterans call The Villages home, or about 18 percent of the population, according to the latest Census Bureau data. That means 1 in every 6 residents here has worn a U.S. service uniform, compared to 1 in 13 nationally.

The social contributions of these veterans can be seen as they teach schoolchildren about military service, organize holiday toy drives, serve as burial honor guards and provide support to comrades with service-connected disabilities.

Also: The goal to connect Villagers to amenities communitiy-wide is moving forward with golf cart bridge construction across State Road 44 just west of Buena Vista Boulevard. Contech Engineered Solutions, the bridge manufacturer, has delivered components of the 232-foot-long, 20-foot-wide free-span truss. Workers also recently set pilings on the north side of the highway near the Brownwood Pond Bridge (which is completed but not yet open). The SR 44 bridge is one of four bridges under way over SR 44 and Florida’s Turnpike to link residents with amenities community-wide. This first bridge will lead to a second golf cart bridge over the turnpike into the villages of De Luna and Marsh Bend and then through a series of multimodal paths and tunnels into the villages of Linden, McClure, DeSoto, Fenney and beyond.

Also: Speaking of connectivity, residents got a first glance last week at a proposed 1-mile Buena Vista extension across SR 44. Sumter County planners sought public input on the alternatives including an extension through Wildwood Country Resort and two routes that would position Buena Vista east of the community. Any extension would route Buena Vista south to a planned roundabout at the Meggison Road extension that also will cross SR 44 at Brownwood.

Also: Piesanos Stone Fired Pizza, a Gainesville-based restaurant group, has picked Lake Deaton Plaza for its latest restaurant specifically because of The Villages expansion south of SR 44. It’s one of six new restaurants either planned or already opened this year. David Suleiman earned popular acclaim earlier this year with the purchase, renovation and reopening of the Legacy Restaurant at Nancy Lopez Golf & Country Club. Lazy Mac’s Taco Shack also attracted a strong following when it opened inside the Old Mill Playhouse at Lake Sumter Landing. Next up is the Chop House at Sumter Landing, a new restaurant concept adjacent to the Barnes & Noble Bookseller. Bryce and Stacey Kelly, owners of the McAlister’s Deli franchise at Brownwood, anticipate a late springtime opening of the Flying Biscuit Cafe at 1101 Canal St. at Lake Sumter Landing. And John and Stephanie Frederick are moving forward quickly on construction for their Dickey’s Barbecue Pit at Grand Traverse Plaza at Brownwood.

Also: The Villages Grown garden-to-table farming operation at the southwest corner of SR 44 and Morse Boulevard is moving toward its first harvest. Every day brings new growth at this farm that will exceed all U.S. Department of Agriculture organic standards. The project’s executive director, Jennifer Waxman, expects the first planting to start sometime in April, with the first harvest coming as early as May. She’s optimistic The Villages Grown-branded entrees will debut later this year at Villages restaurants with retail availability to follow.

Also: Considerable progress continues at the Center for Advanced Healthcare at Brownwood and the Brownwood Hotel & Spa. Each project is nearing the dry-in phase, when project is enclosed to keep out all weather elements. Phases of framing work has started inside the multispeciality medical center that is being developed in the vein of the Cleveland Clinic. Designed as a bedless hospital, the medical center will provide outpatient services typically requiring a hospital stay. Instead, patients will be permitted to recuperate either at home or at the adjoining 150-bed, resort-style hotel. When complete, the hotel will feature a Wolfgang Puck-licensed restaurant, a medical spa and community-and-business meeting facilities.

David R. Corder is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5241, or david.corder@thevillagesmedia.com.