USNS Comfort Completes Humanitarian Mission

WASHINGTON, Sept. 2, 2011 — Anoth­er chap­ter comes to a close today aboard the USNS Com­fort when it docks at Nor­folk, Va., after five months at sea sup­port­ing the Con­tin­u­ing Promise 2011 human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance mis­sion.

The hulk­ing hos­pi­tal ship — three foot­ball fields long and one wide — deliv­ered med­ical, den­tal, vet­eri­nary and engi­neer­ing assis­tance in the Caribbean Basin, Cen­tral Amer­i­ca and South Amer­i­ca. “First and fore­most, [the mis­sion] demon­strates the Unit­ed States’ com­mit­ment to the Caribbean Basin and Cen­tral and South Amer­i­ca,” Navy Capt. Bri­an Nick­er­son, Con­tin­u­ing Promise mis­sion com­man­der, said.

The deployed hos­pi­tal ship was�there for human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance, but also to sup­port U.S. defense strat­e­gy in the region.

“This region is inex­tri­ca­bly linked to the eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal, cul­tur­al, and secu­ri­ty fab­ric of the Unit­ed States,” Nick­er­son said. “This deploy­ment also enables us to engage with region­al part­ners and improve inter­op­er­abil­i­ty, rela­tion­ships which could be called upon in the event of a region­al cri­sis.”

From April through Sep­tem­ber, mem­bers of Con­tin­u­ing Promise 2011 pro­vid­ed med­ical ser­vices in surgery, neu­rol­o­gy, emer­gency med­i­cine, ortho­pe­dics, anes­the­si­ol­o­gy, den­tistry, fam­i­ly med­i­cine, pedi­atrics, pre­ven­tive med­i­cine, diag­nos­tics and vet­eri­nar­i­an sup­port, ship offi­cials said.

Doc­tors and staff saw near­ly 70,000 patients and per­formed more than 1,100 surg­eries in nine coun­tries — Colom­bia, Cos­ta Rica, Ecuador, El Sal­vador, Guatemala, Hait�Jamaica, Nicaragua and Peru.

The crew’s doc­tors came from the Navy, Army, Air Force and U.S. Pub­lic Health Ser­vice. Also onboard were civil­ian marines, non­govern­ment orga­ni­za­tion vol­un­teers and part­ner-nation mil­i­tary mem­bers.

The USNS Com­fort, at 894-feet long, is three foot­ball fields long and one wide, with 250 hos­pi­tal beds and an 850-per­son team — from vol­un­teers and lin­guists to engi­neers and a large med­ical staff.

In Jamaica, med­ical per­son­nel trained prac­ti­tion­ers to tell the dif­fer­ence between healthy babies and those who need assis­tance after birth, and how to pro­vide life-sav­ing care in its “Help­ing Babies Breathe” train­ing.

“The pur­pose … is to reduce unnec­es­sary neo-natal deaths world­wide,” Dr. Tom Dionne, mas­ter instruc­tor and Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Pedi­atrics vol­un­teer, said in an ear­li­er report. He added that many infants die because of their birthing attendant’s lack of knowl­edge and equip­ment.

Vet­eri­nar­i­ans treat­ed more than 8,200 ani­mals dur­ing the mis­sion, giv­ing vac­cines and de-worm­ing med­i­cines in addi­tion to spay­ing and neu­ter­ing domes­tic pets for their own­ers in nine coun­tries.

Com­fort arrived at its final mis­sion stop in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Aug. 18. There, the ship’s crew treat­ed about 1,450 patients and per­formed 15 surg­eries before Trop­i­cal Storm Irene began to bear down on the island. The hos­pi­tal ship got under way Aug. 21 and anchored at a safe haven until the storm passed.

While the med­ical staff was busy car­ing for patients, the mission’s Seabees and Marines under­took 16 engi­neer­ing projects, mis­sion offi­cials said. They built two class­rooms from the ground up in Colom­bia, and reha­bil­i­tat­ed a med­ical clin­ic in Nicaragua. They also dis­tilled 8,300,000 gal­lons of water.

The engi­neer team also reme­died elec­tric and plumb­ing issues, installed fences and secu­ri­ty bars, and added a bas­ket­ball hoop to a school play­ground.

“The rela­tion­ships forged through oper­a­tions like Con­tin­u­ing Promise fos­ters trust, col­lab­o­ra­tion, and coop­er­a­tion with our friends and allies,” Nick­er­son said, adding the mis­sion “also be char­ac­ter­ized as defense sup­port to pub­lic diplo­ma­cy in that it sup­ports both region­al and nation­al objec­tives as well as the U.S. Glob­al Mar­itime Strat­e­gy.”

After it leaves Nor­folk, the USNS Com­fort will return to its berth in Bal­ti­more some­time next week, accord­ing to Navy Lt. Stephanie Homick, Con­tin­u­ing Promise 2011 deputy pub­lic affairs offi­cer.

(Editor’s Note: Also con­tribut­ing to this report was Navy Lt. Stephanie Homick, Con­tin­u­ing Promise 2011 deputy pub­lic affairs offi­cer.)

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)