Training, Humanitarian Assistance Fuse During Continuing Promise
By Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class William Selby
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 13, 2009 Less than halfway into a four-month deployment to bring medical care and humanitarian assistance to the people of the Caribbean and Central and South America, personnel involved in Operation Continuing Promise 2009 already have treated more than 25,000 patients from three countries, the officer in charge said.
“Our primary mission is to go out and train and gain valuable experience, going out and doing humanitarian, civic-assistance missions,” Navy Capt. Robert Lineberry, mission commander for Continuing Promise 2009, said during a “DoD Live” bloggers roundtable May 11.
“We constantly talk about the numbers, but it’s not about the numbers,” he said. “It’s really about providing accessible and quality health care to the folks that are really in need.”
Continuing Promise is an annual humanitarian and civic assistance operation supported by U.S. and international military medical personnel, U.S. government agencies, regional health ministries, nongovernmental organizations and U.S. academic institutions. It is coordinated by U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and the U.S. 4th Fleet. In addition to providing medical care, and promoting goodwill and partnerships, the mission provides valuable emergency training for the personnel involved.
The operation is being run from the USNS Comfort, one of two Military Sealift Command hospital ships capable of rapid response during emergencies. The ship provided support in New York City following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and in the Gulf Coast region in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
Continuing Promise began when the Comfort departed Norfolk, Va., on April 1, with visits planned to Antigua, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Panama. Each visit is scheduled to last 10 to 12 days.
The medical, dental and veterinary crew of the Comfort includes about 650 medical professionals from the Navy, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard and U.S. Public Health Service, nongovernmental organizations, and other international partners. Canada, Chile, El Salvador, France, the Netherlands and Nicaragua will also provide medical professionals for the mission at some point during the deployment to participate in the training.
“We will rotate through quite a few Navy Reserve [personnel, and] quite a few humanitarian organizations, and probably when it’s all said and done after the four months, we’ll probably have trained up over 1,400 individuals,” Lineberry said.
The crew for Continuing Promise also includes a construction battalion of Seabees tasked with rebuilding and restoring hospitals and other buildings, Lineberry added.
The Seabees already have fully restored a condemned hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and are currently working on a mental hospital in Antigua and Barbuda, he said.
“The Seabees are very rounded. They can do anything you can ask them to do,” Lineberry said.
This is the fourth humanitarian-focused U.S. naval deployment to the region in the past three years designed to promote partnerships and goodwill. Building on lessons learned from the past mission, the Comfort is making fewer stops, but for longer durations during Continuing Promise 2009.
“Our goal is to just to go out and just do good things, and we’re doing that,” Lineberry said.
(Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class William Selby serves in the Defense Media Activity’s emerging media directorate.)