USNS Comfort Completes Humanitarian Mission
By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 2, 2011 Another chapter comes to a close today aboard the USNS Comfort when it docks at Norfolk, Va., after five months at sea supporting the Continuing Promise 2011 humanitarian assistance mission.
Haitian fishermen look toward the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort during Continuing Promise 2011 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Aug. 18, 2011. Continuing Promise was a five-month humanitarian assistance mission to the Caribbean and Central and South America, which ended today when the ship docked at Norfolk, Va. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric C. Tretter
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The hulking hospital ship -- three football fields long and one wide -- delivered medical, dental, veterinary and engineering assistance in the Caribbean Basin, Central America and South America.
“First and foremost [the mission] demonstrates the United States' commitment to the Caribbean Basin and Central and South America,” Navy Capt. Brian Nickerson, Continuing Promise mission commander, said.
The deployed hospital ship was there for humanitarian assistance, but also to support U.S. defense strategy in the region.
“This region is inextricably linked to the economic, political, cultural, and security fabric of the United States,” Nickerson said. “This deployment also enables us to engage with regional partners and improve interoperability, relationships which could be called upon in the event of a regional crisis.”
From April through September, members of Continuing Promise 2011 provided medical services in surgery, neurology, emergency medicine, orthopedics, anesthesiology, dentistry, family medicine, pediatrics, preventive medicine, diagnostics and veterinarian support, ship officials said.
Doctors and staff saw nearly 70,000 patients and performed more than 1,100 surgeries in nine countries -- Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haití, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Peru.
The crew’s doctors came from the Navy, Army, Air Force and U.S. Public Health Service. Also onboard were civilian marines, nongovernment organization volunteers and partner-nation military members.
The USNS Comfort, at 894-feet long, is three football fields long and one wide, with 250 hospital beds and an 850-person team -- from volunteers and linguists to engineers and a large medical staff.
In Jamaica, medical personnel trained practitioners to tell the difference between healthy babies and those who need assistance after birth, and how to provide life-saving care in its "Helping Babies Breathe" training.
"The purpose … is to reduce unnecessary neo-natal deaths worldwide," Dr. Tom Dionne, master instructor and American Academy of Pediatrics volunteer, said in an earlier report. He added that many infants die because of their birthing attendant's lack of knowledge and equipment.
Veterinarians treated more than 8,200 animals during the mission, giving vaccines and de-worming medicines in addition to spaying and neutering domestic pets for their owners in nine countries.
Comfort arrived at its final mission stop in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Aug. 18. There, the ship’s crew treated about 1,450 patients and performed 15 surgeries before Tropical Storm Irene began to bear down on the island. The hospital ship got under way Aug. 21 and anchored at a safe haven until the storm passed.
While the medical staff was busy caring for patients, the mission’s Seabees and Marines undertook 16 engineering projects, mission officials said. They built two classrooms from the ground up in Colombia, and rehabilitated a medical clinic in Nicaragua. They also distilled 8,300,000 gallons of water.
The engineer team also remedied electric and plumbing issues, installed fences and security bars, and added a basketball hoop to a school playground.
“The relationships forged through operations like Continuing Promise fosters trust, collaboration, and cooperation with our friends and allies,” Nickerson said, adding the mission “also be characterized as defense support to public diplomacy in that it supports both regional and national objectives as well as the U.S. Global Maritime Strategy.”
After it leaves Norfolk, the USNS Comfort will return to its berth in Baltimore sometime next week, according to Navy Lt. Stephanie Homick, Continuing Promise 2011 deputy public affairs officer.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Also contributing to this report was Navy Lt. Stephanie Homick, Continuing Promise 2011 deputy public affairs officer.)