Operation Tribute to Freedom

OTF Soldier Story for September 6, 2010 - 1st Lt. John Bourges

First Lieutenant John Bourges

Current Unit: 405th Combat Support Hospital
Current Position: Emergency Nurse
Component: Army Reserve
Current Location: New York City, N.Y.
Hometown: Mahopac, N.Y.
Years of Service: 4

The events of Sept. 11, 2001 had a profound effect on nearly every American. The graphic images of a terrorist attack in one of our most iconic cities moved many to find some way to support their community, their fellow Americans and their country. For many it was a call to duty. Fifty-year-old John Bourges, who at the time was a recently retired New York City Police Department (N.Y.P.D.) narcotics officer and homicide detective, was only a few short miles away when the towers came down.

“I knew several people who were killed that day, and that day changed me,” he said. “Even though I could have served immediately with a military police unit, I had just started my nursing degree and I wanted to put those skills to use.”

Graduating with a nursing degree in 2003, Bourges applied to join the Army in 2006 after seeing a news story about the Army Reserve’s need for Soldiers with specialized medical training. After receiving a direct commission, he reported to the 405th Combat Support Hospital unit and learned that they would be deploying the following year—and he asked for permission to deploy with the unit.

While deployed in 2007-2008 as a critical care nurse, Bourges was responsible for providing emergency medical treatment to wounded service members, both in Al Asad and Balad, Iraq.

“My work that I did in theater was very challenging, and there was very little predictability in my days. In the emergency room, we had to be prepared for anything, but we never knew what would happen next,” he said.

Yet the work that Bourges and his fellow nurses did was critical in allowing Soldiers to return to the frontlines.

“When I worked in the narcotics unit for the NYPD, I was the young guy kicking down the doors. Then in Iraq, I was the older guy taking care of the young guys who were out there kicking down the doors,” he said.

With experience in civilian hospitals as both an ER nurse and ICU nurse and certifications as a critical care registered nurse and a certified emergency nurse, Bourges was able to apply his civilian skills to his deployment, and vice versa now that he has returned home.

“The lessons I learned overseas are helping me be a better nurse at home, and my training and certificates prepared me well for my deployment,” he said.

He also notes a few difference between his work in the civilian and military fields.

“My sense of reality has changed and shifted. When people enter the ER, I always ask them to rate their pain, and they’ll often say that their chronic back pain is a severe 10. Yet when I was working overseas, a Soldier with a crippled ankle or another combat-related injury would say their pain was only a two,” he said. “It speaks to the types of people who serve in the military—they’re tough.”

Now home, Bourges lives in Mahopac, N.Y., with his wife and daughter, and works as a registered nurse at Putnam Hospital Center and Northern Westchester Hospital. In the future, Bourges hopes to deploy to Afghanistan to continue to help wounded Soldiers.

“September 11, 2001 changed me, and it changed a lot of other people too. Hopefully I’ve been able to use the change to help others and to give back,” he said. “Serving in the military is something that I felt I needed to do after the attack.”

Telling the Army Story: Community Relations

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