Hospital Ship Prepares for Humanitarian Assistance Mission
(March 11, 2009)
one of two hospital ships in the Military Sealift
Command inventory, is docked at its home port in
Baltimore as preparations continue for a four-month
humanitarian assistance mission in the Caribbean and
||BALTIMORE, March 5, 2009 –
Last-minute preparations are under way aboard
USNS Comfort here as it prepares to leave early
next month for a four-month humanitarian
assistance mission through Latin America and the
The hulking hospital ship
-- three football fields long and one wide --
will deliver medical, dental, veterinary and
engineering assistance in support of Continuing
The mission, U.S. Southern Command's fourth in
as many years, will include visits to Antigua
and Barbuda, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El
Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Panama.
While providing critically needed assistance
that reaffirms U.S. commitment to the region,
Continuing Promise will provide a tremendous
training opportunity for the way the United
States and its partners would respond to a
real-life disaster, explained Navy Capt. Robert
G. Lineberry Jr., Comfort's commodore.
The crew will include about 650 medical
professionals from the Navy, Army, Air Force and U.S. Public
Health Service, nine nongovernmental organizations and 13
international partners, Lineberry told reporters who toured
the ship yesterday. In addition to countries to be visited,
Canada, France, Chile, Spain and the Netherlands will deploy
medical professionals to support the mission. |
Project Hope, one of the NGOs to participate, plans to bring
more than 100 medical and support professionals who will
donate their time, and also donated equipment and supplies
they will leave behind at each stop along their way. This
mission is great for Project Hope,” said Rand Walton, who
has participated in a dozen U.S.-Navy sponsored humanitarian
missions. “The Navy gives us the opportunity to get to
places in the world we couldn't get to as easily,” he said.
“And the Comfort is a great platform for us that helps us
fulfill our mission.”
During the mission, a team of 21 Seabees will conduct
engineering missions ashore alongside host-nation engineers.
“This mission is an excellent opportunity to bring these
partners together” so they can train to launch the rapid
response required during a hurricane, earthquake or other
disaster, Lineberry said. “Given the nature of natural
disasters, we must always be ready.”
That readiness got put to the test during last year's
Continuing Promise mission, conducted by USS Boxer, then USS
Kearsarge. Kearsarge was bound for a scheduled humanitarian
and civil assistance mission in Colombia in September when
it got diverted to Haiti to relieve suffering and loss of
life in the wake of Hurricane Ike and several other deadly
Helicopters crews and ground support personnel aboard the
amphibious ship delivered and distributed critically needed
food and relief supplies.
“The circumstances that bring us here are unfortunate, but
it is fortunate we are here,” Navy Capt. Fernandez "Frank"
Ponds, mission commander for Continuing Promise 2008, said
after witnessing the devastation. “The unique capabilities
that Kearsarge brings with it will ensure that help and aid
reaches people quickly.”
This year, USNS Comfort will bring
immense medical capabilities to the Continuing Promise
mission. The 250-bed floating hospital will be equipped
and staffed to provide just about any kind of medical
treatment except open-heart surgery or organ
transplants, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Olivero, who
oversees its 12 operating rooms.
Dental procedures and hysterectomies ranked among the
most common care provided during Comfort's last
Continuing Promise mission, in 2007, he said. But the
crew also provided “thousands and thousands of
eyeglasses” to those who needed them, and in one
particularly memorable surgery, operated on a child
blinded by congenital cataracts.
“I can see Mom! I can see!” the child exclaimed in
Comfort's recovery room after seeing his mother for the
first time. “I'll never forget it,” Olivero said.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Olivero
gives reporters a tour March 4, 2009, through
one of USNS Comfort's 12 operating rooms that
will be used during the upcoming Continuing
Promise 2009 mission. The hospital ship is
docked at its home port in Baltimore.
“This ship has amazing capabilities,” Navy
Cmdr. Mark Marino, who commands Comfort's nursing staff,
said. “We're really running a state-of-the-art operation
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Felecia Wilson pointed to the
ship's diagnostics testing lab as an example. “It's just as
capable as the one at Johns Hopkins [Hospital], down the
street,” she said.
Down the hallway, Navy Chief Petty Officer Joseph Bone,
Comfort's pharmacy technician, was taking stock of the
prescription drugs already arriving for the upcoming
mission. He recalled the huge workload as he filled 122,000
prescriptions during Continuing Promise 2009.
As Comfort's crew brings care and services to the countries
they visit, they take something deeply personal away from
the experience, said Navy Capt. Jim Ware, who oversees the
ship's medical operations.
“Folks come back with a great sense of accomplishment,” he
said. “It's a very meaningful experience for them.”
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Chad Singer, a specialist in
Comfort's intensive care unit, recalled the gratification of
bringing critically needed care to people who need it.
“Surgeries that seem so simple in the United States mean so
much to the people we visit who need them,” he said. “It's
amazing to see how much it alters their lives for the
photos by Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
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