Hospitality: Call of Duty

In the lobby at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda

Sometimes hospitality has to be delivered, in this case, right to the floor of the wounded warriors with traumatic brain injury, or “TBI” as the sign says in the hall of 7E, Building 10,  of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

A federal institution, the National Naval Medical Center or “Bethesda Naval” as it has been called for decades, is the hospital of the presidents. The National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) has been the flagship of the U.S. Navy’s medical centers. A few weeks ago, NNMC was merged with Walter Reed Army Medical Center to create the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center a modernized joint-forces central medical facility created by expanding the current NNMC facility.

A friend of ours from Knoxville, Tennessee, CPT Mark Brogan, U.S. Army, Ret., is at the National Naval Medical Center receiving care. So, off we went.

Mark (31) sustained a traumatic brain injury in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006 when a suicide bomber blew up in front of him in a market in Ahnbar Province. He tells the story with intense honesty to our son (11) who wants to know how he earned his Purple Heart.

On April 11, 2006, Captain Brogan was approached from behind by a suicide bomber during his mission in Iraq. The bomb detonated and Mark was left for dead. Such is the custom of soldiers on the battlefield to stand silently over the dead and give them their final prayers and a send-off. They said goodbye to Captain Brogan. But to the surprise of the medics, Mark was still alive. To hear him tell it, it was okay with him to take the hit because the suicide bomber died and that would be one less person on this earth who could hurt people.

From left: my husband, MAJ Bill Kelley, USAR, JAG; CPT Mark Brogan; our son, Patrick

Mark still has nightmares. Thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, his skull has been reconstructed (he shows us the photo of the model of his reconstructed skull as well as the scar that traverses his head), he has a hearing loss, and is now under care for continued seizures. Of the many medals he has earned, Mark tells us with a boyish grin that the Purple Heart is one he would rather not have earned.

Mark’s wife, Sunny, is staying at Fisher House, which is housing for the families of the military members who are hospitalized, while Mark undergoes a series of medication testing to control his seizures. Mark is getting the best care our county can give him and he deserves it.

Bringing Food and Comfort

Volunteer Ester Brooks brings hospitality to the wounded warriors.

Ester Brooks is a bubbly, pretty and charming mother of three, who lives in the Bethesda area. She is also a teacher and spends time weekly at the National Naval Medical Center. When I asked Ester what she does there, she said:

“I organize breakfast with coffee and bagels on Wednesdays on the wounded warrior floor for soldiers and their families. We just started another coffee on Tuesdays in ICU. I also do healing arts and yoga classes on 7W and on the traumatic brain injury section. Basically, I get to meet the wounded warriors and their families and try to help a little. I get especially close to the Hispanic families because I speak Spanish. It’s just such an honor to be with them and to be of a little help sometimes.”

Ester is one of many dedicated volunteers who carve out time from their overbooked lives to lend their talents to the men and women who serve our country. Thank you Ester for knowing that hospitality comes from the heart and goes anywhere you do.

Thank you Mark for your service to our country. You answered the call so we can live in peace.

Read more about the compelling story of Mark Brogan in my article from Hearing Loss Magazine

Click here to read: Call of Duty Part II – Steak and Cakes at Bethesda Naval