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Comfort Returns to U.S. After Haiti Mission

American Forces Press Service

NORFOLK, Va., March 14, 2010 – The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort arrived at Naval Station Norfolk here yesterday after its seven-week deployment in Haiti supporting Operation Unified Response. Video

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Family members look on as Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort emerges from the fog to moor at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., March 13, 2010, en route to its homeport in Baltimore. Comfort has returned from a seven-week deployment to Haiti as part of Joint Task Force Haiti's disaster-relief operations. Haiti was hit by a magnitude 7 earthquake Jan. 12. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Steinhour
  

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Comfort left its Baltimore homeport in record time after receiving orders to make best speed to Haiti to provide medical aid to victims of the magnitude 7 earthquake that struck Jan. 12. The ship's crew admitted its first patients three days after deploying and, following 49 days of operations off the coast of Port-au-Prince, had provided care to 794 Haitians suffering from injuries ranging from crushed limbs to gangrenous wounds.

"What people did will affect medicine for a long time," said Navy Capt. James Ware, commanding officer of the medical treatment facility aboard Comfort. "People's experiences and the lessons they learned will affect the way we treat earthquake-related injuries in the future. I am very proud of the crew."

A large part of Comfort's medical efforts was devoted to surgeries. However, it took more than doctors, nurses and corpsmen to ensure that the 843 surgeries performed were successful. More than 1,400 Navy medical professionals and support personnel, ranging from culinary specialists to engineers, came together with civil mariners and nongovernmental volunteers to provide critical support to the multinational effort in Haiti.

The mission, led by the U.S. Agency for International Development in partnership with the Haitian government, presented a number of unique challenges, including the communication barrier that existed between attending physicians and their patients.

"The ship initially had about 10 people on board to help with translating," said Navy Chief Petty Officer Marcel Blanfort, who headed up the translation department. "However, the commanding officer knew that the mission was of a greater scale."

Seventy-five sailors and one Marine from 39 military commands joined their shipmates along with 88 Red Cross volunteers, all French or Creole speaking, to bridge the gap. They interacted with patients and the medical staff aboard daily, working in the casualty receiving area, the operating rooms and after-care wards.

"I was really glad to come down and help," said Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Yves Henry, a surgical technician and translator from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va. "We came and helped to the best of our ability. Some of the people that we helped would have died if we didn't come."

Now, eight weeks after its humanitarian mission began, Comfort's crew is ready for a well-deserved reprieve.

"I'm excited about going home," said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Vanal Lamour. "It will be nice to take some time to relax a little."

Many of the personnel embarked with Comfort will leave the ship here before the remaining crew continues its trek to Baltimore.

"It is all the support from people at home that helped to make this possible," said Navy Capt. Rodelio Laco, commodore, Task Group 41.8, who provided operational oversight aboard Comfort. "I would be proud to serve with any of these sailors, anytime, anywhere." (From a USNS Comfort news release.)

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Related Sites:
Special Report: Haiti Earthquake Relief
USNS Comfort

Click photo for screen-resolution imageNavy hospital ship USNS Comfort arrives at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., March 13, 2010, en route to its homeport in Baltimore after a seven-week deployment to Haiti as part of Joint Task Force Haiti's disaster-relief operations. Haiti was hit by a magnitude 7 earthquake Jan. 12. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Steinhour  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSailors aboard USNS Comfort “man the rails” upon arrival at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., March 13, 2010. Comfort has returned from Haiti after completing its mission in support of Operation Unified Response, providing medical aid to victims of the magnitude 7 earthquake that struck the nation Jan. 12. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Edwardo Proano  
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