Editorial: Friday night magic

The idea of serving the free steak dinners to soldiers started small but became major events

On Friday nights for the past two and a half years — in a back corner of a restaurant in the basement of the Capital Hilton a few blocks from the White House — magic has been happening. Each week, injured warfighters have come to Fran O’Brien’s Stadium Steakhouse to get a free steak dinner. The meetings were private affairs. A burly-looking bouncer stood at the door to protect these men and women so they could enjoy their meals.

The idea of serving the free steak dinners started out small with the invitation of a single soldier. But those Friday nights have become major events — occasions to embrace the men and women who have made great sacrifices in service to their country. Many of the people who started the Friday night event are veterans themselves — many of them Vietnam War veterans. They remember how they were treated when they returned home from that war, and they have worked to ensure that others will not be treated the same way.

Ed Meagher, deputy chief information officer at the Interior Department, is a member of the team of special wizards who have sponsored magical events at that magical place. I attended the Friday night event April 28. It was an amazing experience and inspired hope. At these dinners, you see severely injured male and female warfighters — some in wheelchairs, some with prosthetic limbs, some midway through their difficult recovery, said Meagher, who won the Federal 100 Eagle award last year for his work with the injured veterans.

For many of the warfighters, the Friday night dinners are therapeutic. Meagher talked about one soldier who was injured so badly that he had to have his face rebuilt. The soldier felt unsightly and embarrassed. His trip to Fran O’Brien’s was one of the first times he ventured away from the safe environs of the Bethesda Naval Hospital, where he is recovering. At first, he hung back in the shadows to avoid onlookers. But he kept coming back week after week. The back room of Fran O’Brien’s became a haven — a home away from home. Many weeks later, that soldier left the back room at Fran O’Brien’s and ventured out into the main area of the restaurant. In time, he began sitting at the restaurant’s bar where he could talk to other patrons.

The end has come. April 28 was the final night for those dinners. The Hilton hotel chain decided, rather suddenly, to revoke the restaurant’s lease. The reasons behind that decision remain unclear. Hilton officials have been coy about offering an explanation. The hotel chain has been vilified by veterans in the blogosphere where the rallying cry has become “Operation Perish Hilton.”

The government technology community has been admirable in its support of these efforts. We have faith in the magicians. Their passion for the recovering warfighters will ensure that the dinners continue and that the events will be magical wherever they are held.

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About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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