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Naval Hospital Bremerton staff bid their commander farewell
With tissues in hand, Capt. Catherine Wilson gave her final salute as a naval officer Friday afternoon.
The Naval Hospital Bremerton commander was relieved by Capt. Mark Brouker and retired after nearly 30 years of naval service.
"I promised I wouldn't cry like a girl and I'm not going to, but today is a very emotional day for me," Wilson told the crowd.
Wilson is returning to her hometown of Williamsburg, Va. to serve as executive director of the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program.
"What a great way to use your skills and continue to give back," said Rear Adm. Christine Hunter, Navy Medicine West and Naval Medical Center, San Diego commander.
Hunter and guest speaker Rear Adm. Matthew Nathan, Navy Medicine East and Naval Medical Center, Portsmouth commander, praised Wilson's naval career and leadership abilities.
During Wilson's two-year tenure at Naval Hospital Bremerton, the facility was named the "best family medicine teaching hospital in the Navy." The hospital's emergency room was renovated and individual medical readiness was maintained at 96 percent under Wilson's command. She also cut redundant positions, saving the facility more than $3.4 million a year.
Wilson attributed much of Naval Hospital Bremerton's success to her team of staff members.
"You know why I love this team so much? They love what they do," Wilson said. "To my shipmates and colleagues, thank you for leaving such heavy footprints on my heart."
Wilson's staff also enjoyed working with their commander and named her an honorary command master chief. Wilson also received the Legion of Merit award at Friday's ceremony.
Wilson's extensive career took her all over the world including stints in Kuwait, Camp Pendleton, Calif., Portsmouth, Va., Bethesda, Md., Philadelphia and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. She also worked as a congressional detail to Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.
Nathan, a longtime friend of Wilson's, told old stories about the retiring captain much to the delight of the nearly 350 people in attendance. On a serious note, Nathan said it was a pleasure to call Wilson his shipmate.
"Cathy Wilson and people like her are the reasons I stayed in the Navy — the reasons I made it a career," Nathan said.
Wilson said she felt good about turning over command of Naval Hospital Bremerton to Brouker and knows the Pittsfield, Mass. native will enjoy his time at the facility.
"I am truly honored to become your commanding officer," Brouker told the hospital staff and guests. "To be selected to be commanding officer of Naval Hospital Bremerton is an exceptional gift."
Brouker has a bachelor's degree in pharmacy and a master's in business administration. He most recently served as executive officer of the U.S. Naval Hospital in Rota, Spain.
Wilson thanked her family including her mother, husband and children, who were in attendance at Friday's change of command ceremony.
"You really can't do this without your family," Wilson said. "What a lucky and blessed woman I am."
Wilson's father spent more than 27 years in the Navy and served on the Navy's last sailing vessel, survived Pearl Harbor and accompanied Adm. Richard Byrd to Antarctica. Retired Chief Boatswains' Mate Jerry Irvine piped Wilson to and from the stage using her father's boatswains' pipe.
"I am so proud of the legacy my father left on this good earth," Wilson said.
While Wilson is officially retired from military service, she will continue to serve the men and women of the armed forces through the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program.
"I will never walk away from the United States Navy," she said.