Clinton Observes Continuing Promise at Work in Haiti
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti, April 17, 2009 Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton got a first-hand look yesterday at the humanitarian assistance a military, interagency and nongovernmental team is providing here as she toured a medical clinic set up during Continuing Promise 2009. Clinton visited the facility in the Cite Soleil section of Haiti’s capital city, where she chatted with medical professionals who arrived here aboard USNS Comfort to provide critically needed medical and dental care to some of Haiti’s poorest people.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton waves to joint, international, interagency and nongovernmental organization representatives working together during Continuing Promise 2009 as Navy Capt. Robert G. Lineberry Jr., commodore of USNS Comfort, gives her a tour through one of two medical sites his crew set up to treat Haiti’s poorest residents. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Brian Finney
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Comfort, home-ported in Baltimore, arrived in Port au Prince harbor April 9, the first stop during its four-month mission through Latin America and the Caribbean. Its 850-member crew also will visit Antigua, Barbuda, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama before returning to the United States.
In addition to conducting 15 to 20 surgeries daily aboard the 250-bed floating hospital, crewmembers are treating about 500 patients a day at two onshore medical sites set up through coordination with Haiti’s health ministry, said Navy Capt. James J. Ware, who oversees Comfort’s medical operations.
Navy Capt. Robert G. Lineberry Jr., Comfort’s commodore and tactical commander, walked Clinton through the Cite Soleil site, describing the U.S. Southern Command-sponsored Continuing Promise mission.
The secretary shook hands with the medical staff as she toured the facility and posed for photos with the Comfort’s medical staff. “Thank you for what you do here!” she called out, waving as she passed other crewmembers attending to patients.
“I’m very impressed and grateful that our country is able to provide this service,” Clinton said as she left the building where dental, pediatric, women’s health and pharmaceutical services are delivered.
Lineberry said Clinton was particularly impressed by the scale of the operation and the number of participating international and humanitarian organizations. “She sees that we certainly could be doing it even better with more organizations,” he said.
The Comfort crew called Clinton’s visit a highlight of a mission just begun, but already punctuated by high points.
“It shows that they actually care about what we are doing here, that they take the time to come down here and see it,” said Navy Seaman Robert Barnes, a personnel specialist from Naval Hospital Pensacola, Fla.
He said he hopes Clinton would see “that what we’re doing is all worth it: people helping other people get medical care they wouldn’t otherwise get.”
“I hope she sees how much hard work we’re doing here, and how we’re giving aid to people less fortunate than in the United States,” echoed Navy Seaman Laura Pickett, who works in a small tent just outside the dental treatment facility, sterilizing dental equipment.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Carlos Ramossanchez, a pharmacy technician from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., said the message he most wanted Clinton to take away was “the great work that all the organizations are doing, all working together, to take care of people.”
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Ryan Peters, assigned to Maritime Civil Affairs Squadron 2 in Yorktown, Va., said Continuing Promise goes beyond the desperately needed care the USNS Comfort crew is providing. “It’s about relationship-building between the two countries, and building communications and lasting partnerships,” he said.
Clinton’s visit came the day after she promised Haitian Prime Minister Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis in Washington that the United States will remain a “committed partner” in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. Lineberry called the visit a great opportunity to showcase how the Continuing Promise mission directly supports that commitment.
Before USNS Comfort launched the mission earlier this month, Lineberry and Ware met with the embassy staff at every country to be visited. “We sat within the embassy staff and with [the U.S. Agency for International Development] and asked, ‘What is your plan, and how can we help you carry it out or help you with your objectives?’” Lineberry said.
This unity of effort helps to ensure all players are working cooperatively to support the same goals, while bringing an immense capability to the effort, he said.
Later during Continuing Promise 2009, when USNS Comfort visits Colombia, crewmembers will roll up their sleeves to support a major USAID effort under way there, Lineberry said. USAID helped to relocate about 200 families who were living in a low-lying area that regularly flooded to higher ground.
“Now we will be going in at the request of the embassy and USAID and put in a playground area and a community garden for this new community that USAID has put a lot of effort and resources into,” Lineberry said. “Those are the kinds of opportunities we are looking for, with the Department of Defense working alongside the Department of State to achieve our objectives together.”