By Destiny Sibert
Commander, Navy Installations Command Public Affairs
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A closer look at Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bethesda reveals a caring environment that enables patients to heal, staff to thrive and guests to feel at home.
Part of Naval District Washington, NSA Bethesda is home to more than 40 tenant commands including Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC), Navy Medical Leader and Professional Development Command, Uniformed Services University, Armed Forces Blood Program, Naval Dosimetry Center, Soldier Recovery Brigade, Navy Medicine Readiness & Training Command, Fisher House Bethesda and many more.
“Our installation mission is strategically important because we focus on medical readiness,” said Capt. Mary Seymour, commanding officer of NSA Bethesda since August 2018. “That focus encompasses more than just the physical, mental and spiritual wellness of individual service members, it also extends to their family members and our veterans.”
NSA Bethesda isn’t a joint command but it serves every military branch and several government agencies, while supporting cutting-edge medical research across its tenant commands and the 18,000 service members, military families, veterans and guests that rely on the installation, daily.
NSA Bethesda personnel steadfastly meet those needs while ensuring installation safety and security. Among the installation’s achievements in the past two and a half years, NSA Bethesda received certification for passing its Security Final Evaluation Problem (FEP) assessment in June 2019 and converted the Navy Gateway Inns & Suites (NGIS) to unaccompanied housing for enlisted service members. Additionally, the Child Development Center stood up a new School-Age Child Care Program in spring of 2020 when schools went virtual and continued the program for the 2020-2021 school year to support mission essential families impacted by the pandemic.
When COVID-19 gripped the country, supporting the Department of Defense’s flagship medical center took on heightened importance and presented unprecedented challenges. NSA Bethesda became responsible for supporting WRNMMC’s COVID-19 medical response while protecting its own personnel and implementing evolving public health mandates.
“We learned a lot but it also highlighted what we already knew about our staffing challenges and emphasized the importance of communications and relationships,” Seymour explained. “It has by no means been easy for anyone but I am so very proud of our entire staff. They stepped up and out to ensure the mission critical functions at Walter Reed Bethesda continued even though they were concerned about their own health and the health of their families.”
As part of their pandemic response, NSA Bethesda worked collaboratively with Walter Reed Bethesda to support access to tents and trailers for COVID-19 testing and a satellite pharmacy, organize assistance and provide escorts for COVID-19 treatment facilities. They converted the base gymnasium into a blood bank donation site, and most recently allocated it for full-time use as a COVID-19 vaccination site.
Aside from the medical response, the installation flexed operations to support personnel during the pandemic, such as providing daily meal services to wounded warriors and staff. The base’s Fire and Emergency Services remain the most active in the region and continue to support the Montgomery County Fire Department in addition to serving the base. Naval Security Forces continue to ensure force protection remains a priority while balancing health protection measures with increased traffic on the installation from medical professionals and patients seeking treatment.
Seymour will depart NSA Bethesda in May, when she will retire after a distinguished 30-year Navy career. We took this opportunity to ask her a few questions before we bid her a final fair winds and following seas in a couple of months. Here are her responses to a few questions:
What is something about you that your Sailors probably don’t know?
“I met my husband 36 years ago in a high school journalism class and we’ve been together since. We recently celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary.”
What is the most interesting or unusual item in your office?
“The Meerkat figurine on my desk, with its large head sticking out of a hole. It was a gift from my son. He thought it would make me smile since I spend so much time at work. It has definitely done its job!”
Where is your favorite place to get lunch on or near base?
“The Warrior Café — “A Place for Heroes, Open to All.” Hands down, it’s the best place to eat on the installation.”
It must be stressful carrying the weight of the installation on your shoulders. What do you do to unwind and decompress?
“This is my second command tour. After seven years as a commanding officer, I have found I really enjoy just being still when I am at home with my husband and children; they are my rocks. I am also very fortunate to have glorious soul sisters who check-in on me regularly. I love how openly they love me and are proud of what we are doing here at NSA Bethesda. They know I will be back soon.”
What advice do you wish you could give your ensign self?
“Slow down and breathe. You will find your voice!”
What do you think makes a good Sailor?
“I believe a Sailor’s words, actions and deeds are more important than any collar device they will ever wear or any title behind their name. You can teach competency, but character is equally, if not more, important.”