For Navy Chaplain Lieutenant Junior Grade Johnny Bravo — yes, that’s his real name — it was a homecoming when the USNS Comfort entered the New York Harbor on March 30 to treat patients during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It didn’t hit me until we were heading [into the harbor],” Bravo, who grew up in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx, told The Post.
“The ship was flying a huge New York flag … In my blood, I felt like I was home. It’s special for me to give back to the city I love.”
Even if, because of protective protocols, he can’t connect with family while he’s here: “My brother [called from] the pier and said to come to the top of the boat. We waved to each other while on the phone.”
One of two chaplains aboard the Comfort, 38-year-old Bravo is the son of a retired MTA bus driver. He graduated from Herbert H. Lehman High School and is a “die-hard Yankees fan.” At 17, he joined the Air Force and was stationed in Wyoming.
After serving for 10 years, he left to work as a legislative staffer for North Carolina state Senator Jim Davis.
“But I missed serving, and I wanted to do a unique job, so that’s why I chose the Chaplain corps,” said Bravo, an unordained non-denominational Prostetant. He joined the Navy in September 2019, completed his training in January and immediately volunteered when the hospital vessel was called to respond to the COVID-19 crisis in the Big Apple.
Answering a call of duty is in his blood. On 9/11, his father Juan, who now lives in North Carolina, was one of the transit workers enlisted to drive first responders from the NYPD and FDNY to the World Trade Center after the terrorist attacks.
“I remember him being covered in soot from head to toe. He showed me an example of how to live in service,” said Bravo.
As Navy Chaplain, Bravo serves as an adviser to the commander, provides access to faith services and is tasked with taking the general pulse of his shipmates. He organized Zoom access for those wanting to celebrate Passover, and today, Bravo, will lead Easter services on the 894-foot boat — while still following social-distancing rules.
He’s also a sort of New York City ambassador for his crew.
“We have this game where we decide where we would eat if we were able to leave the boat,” said Bravo, who is single and now based in Pensacola, Fla. “I tell them that the outer boroughs have the best food.” Though he’d love to grab some Puerto Rican food from Brisas del Caribe in his old neighborhood, the chaplain praises the Comfort cooks for a “pretty mean Taco Tuesday.”
The Comfort was initially slated to treat non-COVID patients, but the order changed and they pivoted to treating locals suffering from the virus.
Although there has been some criticism about how few people have been treated so far, “These sailors are amazing. They are steady, working long hours and mostly worried about about others and their families back home,” said Bravo. “I don’t say that to be pro Navy. It’s just amazing to see young people be so selfless.
“I’m grateful to be here,” he added. “I hope I represent the people of the Bronx well.”