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The Belize coast guard provides security support for the anchored Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort off the coast of Belize. Comfort is on a four-month humanitarian deployment to Latin America and the Caribbean to provide medical treatment to some 85,000 patients in a dozen countries. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Karsten

Navy Lt. Florence 'Flo' Yarbrough
Project Hope Volunteer Jean Muench, M.D.

Mother, Daughter in Tandem Aid Mission on USNS Comfort

By Petty Officer 2nd Class Brandon Shelander
USNS Comfort Public Affairs

BAY OF AMATIQUE, Guatemala, July 9, 2007 —  As Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort begins its third week of a four-month humanitarian deployment to Latin America and the Caribbean, military and civilian organizations have unified efforts to provide medical, dental and veterinary care to those in need.

Partnership is a common theme for Comfort’s deployment, because of the variety of government and civilian organizations that have come together to provide support.

For Lt. Florence “Flo” Yarbrough, training officer for the embarked command directing Comfort’s mission, Destroyer Squadron 24, and Jean Muench, a pediatrician volunteer for Project Hope, working together is easy. They’ve been doing it for 26 years.

When Jean Muench gave birth to Florence Yarbrough, she had high hopes for her daughter. They were fulfilled as she watched her grow up into a responsible adult and a U.S. Navy officer. Muench had no idea that she would eventually travel to Latin America and the Caribbean with her daughter aboard Comfort, providing humanitarian aid to those in need as a Project Hope volunteer.

“I had known about Project Hope when I was a little girl in the 1960s,” said Muench. “But this particular mission, I first heard about earlier this spring from my daughter who was working with the Navy on the planning.”

Muench works as a pediatrician in Roswell, Ga., at a private practice in a suburban area, and when Yarbrough asked if she wanted to go, the timing was just right.

“It’s good timing with my work and responsibilities at home. I finally had some time to do this, and I had to go,” Muench explained.

“I asked her not really expecting her to say yes,” Yarbrough said, “but she was very much interested. She’s wanted to do something similar before. She tried to go on another mission to Africa last year and it got cancelled.”

Robert Leitch, the Project Hope medical director aboard Comfort, explained why Muench was perfect for the trip.

“She’s a very experienced pediatrician, who’s worked extensively in developing countries, and her husband was in the Navy and her daughter is in the Navy, so she knows both sides of the story,” said Leitch.

Yarbrough has worked for Destroyer Squadron 24 for two years, and was excited at the chance to help coordinate and execute a humanitarian mission.

Photo - See caption below.
A young resident of Belize gives the thumbs up to a camera while in transit to the USNS Comfort. Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28 airlifted the child and other patients to the ship for medical treatment. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Kelly E. Barnes

“The big push for us was to learn lessons here on how to plan missions, because there could be a need anywhere for humanitarian assistance,” Yarbrough said. “So these folks are learning not how to help, but how to work together.”

While Yarbrough hones her skills in management and the movement of personnel and equipment, her mother gets to practice pediatrics in a new environment. Aside from the atmosphere, there’s little difference in the treatment process.

“Of course there’s a difference in language, and the setting, which lacks the privacy of an exam room, but a lot of the concerns of the parents and the illnesses of the children are the same,” Muench said, commenting on her experiences ashore in Belize and Guatemala, the last two ports Comfort has provided aid. “You’re still finding out what’s right or wrong with the child and communicating that to the parents.”

For Yarbrough, seeing her mother do so much for Comfort’s mission is one of the highlights of the deployment.

“I think she’s doing an amazing thing. It’s very cool watching the folks that she’s been able to see and the effects she’s had on them, and it’s rewarding for her, too. It lets her give back,” Yarbrough said.

And for Muench, seeing the different services work together to help out neighbors makes it worth the effort.

“I really like that we’re working with so many different components of health care. Getting to work with the Air Force, the Navy, the Army, the Coast Guard, Canadian Forces and the U.S. Public Health Service was more than I was expecting and it’s been really fun,” said Muench.

Last Updated:
07/09/2007, Eastern Daylight Time
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