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Reporter’s Blog: USNS Comfort Spawns Countless Stories

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

MANAGUA, Nicaragua, July 15, 2009 – I left the USNS Comfort July 13 after a little more than three days aboard the hospital ship. It was not long enough.

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A Nicaraguan boy tells an interpreter where his stomach hurts while a pediatrician from the USNS Comfort evaluates him at a clinic in Chinandega, Nicaragua, July 11, 2009. The hospital ship has been on a tour of Central and South America for the past four months and has treated thousands of patients in seven countries. DoD photo by Fred W. Baker III

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

I underestimated the time I would need to gather the stories I wanted to tell.

It is truly an amazing ship, with a crew of physicians, dentists, optometrists, nurses and a host of other staff who perform incredible work in difficult conditions.

Hundreds of health care professionals from around the world, many of them volunteers, gathered to deliver basic care that most of us in the United States take for granted.

One young mother came to a medical site complaining of stomach pains. It turned out she hadn’t eaten in five days.


Truth be told, I could have followed them for their entire four months at sea and still not have done the story justice.

It’s a side of the Defense Department that most rarely get to see. The $25 million budget for the trip is a fraction of what an Army tank or an Air Force bomber costs. Yet, the dividends are immeasurable. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates recently called the Comfort’s 2007 mission to this region “one of the most successful acts of American public diplomacy so far in this new century.”

But for the hundreds waiting in line during a single day to be seen by doctors from some of the world’s finest health care systems, diplomacy is the furthest thing from their minds.

They want to know if their children are healthy. They want to see. They want to eat without the pain of a toothache.

They want hope for a better future.

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