General Keen’s Blog: USNS Comfort, America’s Ambassador
By Army Lt. Gen. Ken Keen
Special to American Forces Press Service
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Mar. 10, 2010 I had an opportunity the other day to pay one final visit to the USNS Comfort before she was to set sail and return home to the United States. For nearly two months, the Comfort has been parked in the waters just off-shore of the capital of Haiti supporting the humanitarian assistance and disaster response efforts.
The ship’s white hull with its distinctive red cross has been, and will always be, a reminder of the enduring bonds of friendship and solidarity the United States has with this Caribbean nation. For many survivors of the earthquake who were treated on the Comfort, I am sure they too will never forget the care and compassion they received.
During her time here in Haiti, the crew has saved lives, healed the sick and injured and, as embodied in her name, comforted not only the patients, but their families too. Even before the Comfort arrived in Port-au-Prince Bay on Jan. 20 in support of Operation Unified Response, she was already treating some of the most urgent cases, ferried to her by helicopter while she was still under way.
Her mission was to provide emergency surgical intensive treatment for the victims of the earthquake. The flow of patients began in earnest once the Comfort dropped anchor. From broken bones to spinal injuries, the ship had become Port-au-Prince’s primary emergency trauma center.
The wave of patients would continue for weeks to come. Overall, the Comfort performed more than 900 surgical procedures and conducted nearly 10,000 patient encounters that included primary care, pediatrics and dental. The last of Haiti’s patients was transferred at the end of February to medical facilities in Port-au-Prince; it’s a testament that progress is occurring.
With gifts of supplies and equipment from the Comfort herself, as well as a major influx of material from the U.S. and other donors, the Haitian Government and the international community will continue their work to permanently strengthen Haiti’s health care system to meet the long-term needs of the people.
The current situation in Haiti is still fragile. The Government of Haiti, with the support of the international community, has a long road ahead. It won’t be easy, but the resolve of the Haitian people cannot be questioned.
The same can be said about the level of health care. It’s improving, but like many aspects of Haiti’s recovery, change will be slow and will require much effort from all of us, Haitians and Haiti’s friends, laboring together. I am often asked, “General, how is progress coming in Haiti?” My response is generally the same every time: “It’s better today than yesterday, and tomorrow will be better than today.”
This oil tanker reborn as a floating hospital and its embarked medical crew of doctors and nurses, military and civilians know that they answered their nation’s call when it needed them most. They did their duty but even more, they performed a labor of love and friendship. For the Haitians who have seen America’s emissary anchored in its waters during times of emergency and those less dire, the Comfort will always be a symbol of the bonds of solidarity between our two countries.
(Army Lt. Gen. Ken Keen is the commander of Joint Task Force Haiti.)