Healing Others While Healing Yourself: One Student’s Take on Honor Flight

hoff1April 2020 nursing graduate Hannah Brinkerhoff looks back on her Public and Global Health Experience with fondness. She got to participate with her father and grandfather (pictured here) while seven months pregnant. Photo courtesy of Brinkerhoff.

By Quincey Taylor

Veterans are a population with whom all nurses will come in contact during their careers. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 7.6 percent of the U.S. population are veterans, a group which comprises of 18.8 million people. It is so important for nursing students to strive to understand these individuals that have sacrificed so much.

April 2020 nursing graduate Hannah Brinkerhoff had the opportunity to attend 2018’s veteran section of the clinical practicum for the public and global health nursing course. Mentored by teaching professor Dr. Kent Blad, she grew to appreciate not only those that fight for her country but also people in her own family.

Her experience on the Honor Flight gave her new insights into her father’s dedication to serving and allowed her to heal old wounds from when he was gone. Here are her insights into this treasured practice:

How was it to grow up with a father in the military?

My father was a commander in the Navy and served for my entire life. He left in 2002 to serve in the Middle East and served several tours of duty after that in various places including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Bahrain. He was gone a total of 7 years of my entire life once you add all his deployments and tours of duty. It was extremely difficult, especially as a teenager to have my father gone. For a long time, I felt a lot of anger towards him for leaving my family. I didn’t understand why he left us and I was hurt. He often missed various school activities and events that meant a lot to me. I remember hoping that he’d magically appear in the audience but every time I looked, he wasn’t there. He missed almost every one of my birthdays from 2002 till 2012. It was very difficult for me and my family.

hoff2Brinkerhoff’s father was gone a lot during her youth. However, she has grown to understand his sacrifice and is very proud of her father’s decision to defend her country’s freedom. Photo courtesy of Brinkerhoff.

However, I always felt extremely proud of him and his work. On my 16th birthday, he sent me a letter from Iraq explaining to me why he left our family to serve our country. He said that he did it because of his love for freedom. He wrote that freedom was one of the most important gifts Heavenly Father has given us and something that we must continually fight for. From his letter, my attitude changed towards him and I began to forgive him for the years of absence and instead valued his service in a way I never had.

Why did you choose to work with veterans for your P&GH?

The moment I heard about the honor flight and the opportunity to learn more about caring for veterans as a student nurse, I wanted to go. I planned on choosing it as my P&GH from my first semester in the nursing program.

I chose it because of my love for my father and for America. I felt that learning about our great veterans and their service was a great honor and as a nurse, I could serve them a little bit better by attending this particular study abroad. I love America and I owe that love to my father who taught me the importance of freedom and defending it. Our veterans are some of the greatest, bravest, and most noble souls I’ve ever met. One can learn a lot from them.

How did Kent’s class help you understand your father better and see him in a different light?

One of the most important things I learned in Kent’s class was about my father. For the first time in my life, I saw how my father’s service affected him. All growing up, I was entirely focused on myself and on my anger towards my father for his service. I was consumed in my own feelings.

Through Kent’s class, I learned that my father’s service was especially hard on him. He had to leave his family, travel to dangerous places on his own, experience the horrors of war, return home to people that did not understand what he’d just experienced and then deal with the side effects, including PTSD. I felt ashamed of myself for my anger that had lasted for years. I healed completely with my dad and saw him as my hero in every way. Our relationship was strengthened in a way I didn’t know was possible.

hoff3The whole family came out to support the Honor Flight. It was a chance to honor their family members that have sacrificed so much. Photo courtesy of Brinkerhoff.

How did Kent’s influence improve your learning experience?

Kent is absolutely incredible and has a love and passion for America and for our veterans that is contagious. Not only is Kent incredibly passionate about America, but he cares deeply about nursing and about his students. Kent incorporates that into every detail of this class and because of that, I learned so much beyond the care of veterans. I gained a greater appreciation for my freedoms and for my country. I became a better, more involved citizen. And I became prepared to care for all kinds of patients, not just veterans.

I would like to thank Kent for being one of the best professors I’ve ever had. He helped me grow in so many ways and facilitated my learning through incredible experiences that I couldn’t have had any other place. He taught me how to heal with my father and I’m so grateful for the things he taught me about America and our great servicemen and women.

What would you say to students who will be working with veterans in the future?

I would tell students that they will be working with veterans no matter where they end up so it is important to become at least somewhat familiar with them and what they stand for. As Kent teaches, “to know them is to care for them better.” As with any population, to truly give compassionate care, it’s imperative to learn of them: their culture, their beliefs, their values, and what they care about. It is because of our veterans and servicemen and women that we as students have the opportunity to study as we do and do so many of the things we take for granted. As nurses, the least we can do is to be prepared to care for them in a personal and loving way.

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