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Garamone’s Blog: The Sprint Before the Marathon

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan. 20, 2010 – It’s been six hours since the USNS Comfort arrived in position in the harbor here and the action hasn’t slowed for a second.

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Jim Garamone is writing articles and blogging about earthquake relief efforts in Haiti for American Forces Press Service. Courtesy photo

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

There are 55 victims of the Haitian earthquake aboard already and many more are expected. Most of the patients transferred from other Navy ships. Medics aboard those vessels had stabilized the people until the Comfort arrived. All of the patients arrived via helicopters.

The flight deck team has this down to a science already. The helo lands and two members of the team run out to chock the wheels. The door slides open and other members of the team – along with the crew – carry the patients off the bird. If they can walk, other members of the crew escort them off the flight deck.

Nine minutes later, the crew reverses the process and motions the chopper to take off. Then they wait for the process to begin again.

And it’s hot on the flight deck. The no-slide material the Navy puts on the deck is dark and it soaks up heat. So even with a good breeze across the ship, temperatures rise quickly and stay there.

Yet the crew is never far away, because there is always another helo coming in, and time means lives.

The chiefs on the flight deck send the crew off occasionally for a break. But even then the mission isn’t far from their minds.

Some medics who work in casualty receiving also were getting a rare break, and they found themselves surrounded by guys in white, yellow, green and purple shirts asking about some of the Haitians they brought on board the ship. “How’s the little girl with the burns?” “Is the old guy who lost his leg going to make it?” “How did that little boy get those broken arms?” The medics answer as best they can, then both groups get right back to work.

And it’s like that all around this ship. The supply guys work long hours to ensure that no patient dies because the right equipment wasn’t available. The food service folks pitch in when they can. The civilian mariners who sail the ship ask if there is anything the medics need.

The crew of the Comfort knows this is just the first day of many. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, leaders have told them. The crew understands that.

But in these first days, the medics have to sprint in order to save lives. And all the rest of the crew here will help them.

(Jim Garamone of American Forces Press Service is reporting and blogging about relief operations in Haiti from aboard the USNS Comfort. His e-mail address is jim.garamone@dma.mil.)

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Related Sites:
Special Report: Haiti Earthquake Relief
USNS Comfort
USNS Comfort on Twitter

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