The Blessing of the Hands, held May 6 at Ireland Army Health Clinic, is an annual ceremony many nurses around the world observe. It kicks off Nurses Week, first celebrated in 1954, and was a week selected to honor nurses because May 12 is Florence Nightingale's birthday--a groundbreaking nurse who is considered the founder of nursing.

If you were to ask members of the nursing community to name an important component to health care many of them would say "it's the human touch." Which is why the annual Blessing of the Hands was especially meaningful.

"When the nursing staff extend their hands (during the blessing) it represents our contributions and the work our hands perform to heal our patients physically, spiritually and emotionally," said Capt. Shantyl Galloway, the chief of Army public health nursing at IRAHC and a public health nurse. "Our extended hands are blessed in recognition of our daily contributions to healing and holiness."

She added that she thinks the job of a nurturer, which she said is what nursing is, can go unnoticed for what it is actually worth. The ceremony brings the significance of a nurse's job to light and give them recognition and provides an opportunity to reflect.

Maj. Johnathan Melendez, a chaplain for the Garrison Religious Support Office, pastoral care, conducted the blessings, assisted by Lt. Col. Ralph Bieganek, the chaplain at Human Resources Command.

Melendez, told a personal story about the importance of nurses in his life, as he gave thanks for the profession before the blessing. He said that years ago, in an unfortunate event, he was shot three times and as he laid in a hospital bed he prayed to God as the nurses cared for him--heart, mind, body and soul. He added that it was an event that put him on the path to be a chaplain.

According to Col. Amy Roy, the deputy commander for nursing at IRAHC, the annual tradition represents honoring and blessing nurses, who then go out and do what nurses do, "Heal, Comfort and Care."

"It also helps nurses see the big picture--it allows us time to appreciate and honor our nursing profession as a whole," she explained. "Most times, nurses 'do it all for the patients and their families...' I can't tell you how many times patients have told me while they were in the hospital that they always remembered their nurse and what their nurse did for them.

"We need to take time for ourselves as (nurses)--which most days, we know is not the case. We are always giving of ourselves. We are 'dedicated care-takers' - that is why we chose to be nurses."

Roy said that she was always good at talking to people and got her energy from "being around people" but particularly from helping people.

"When I was in high school I volunteered at a hospital--Red Cross--that was pretty much when I knew I wanted to go into the nursing profession," she said. "(Florence Nightingale) was an integral component in caring and healing the sick and wounded Soldiers - in my mind she paved the way for the Army Nurse Corps. She's my hero!"

The significance of the location for the ceremony wasn't lost on the audience.

The chapel was decommissioned March 13 and the stained glass windows will soon be removed. Maj. Chariti Paden, the clinic's transition officer and chief of the patient administration division, said the two panes that will be repurposed in the new clinic will be removed around May 14.

The remaining windows will remain in place until a contract is awarded. She added that there will be an open house where chaplains from post will be able to laterally transfer any remaining items to their respective chapels.

Since these items will be removed from the decommissioned space, Galloway felt this was the perfect place to hold the last Blessing of the Hands ceremony conducted in the current IRAHC facility.

"I felt having this ceremony in the chapel room would be appropriate for the symbolism of the ceremony as well as memorable for the IRAHC staff," she said. "(This is) one of the last traditional events celebrating the staff within the IRAHC building."