Military Sealift Command Public Affairs
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Laura Seal (202) 685-5055
August 5, 2009
USNS Comfort completes humanitarian mission,
returns to Baltimore
Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort returned to its layberth in Baltimore yesterday after completing a four-month humanitarian and civic assistance mission to Latin America and the Caribbean that delivered medical and dental care to more than 100,000 people.
The mission, called Continuing Promise 2009, was planned and coordinated by Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet to build strong and enduring partnerships and demonstrate the lasting commitment of the United States to the region.
Comfort visited Antigua and Barbuda, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Panama. At each stop, the ship's crew of about 63 civil service mariners, or CIVMARs, worked tirelessly to transport mission personnel and patients between ship and shore by small boat. The ship's size precluded it from pulling into port at all stops but Panama. The crew was also responsible for maintaining electricity and water supplies to the shipboard hospital where 1,657 life changing surgeries were conducted.
While the CIVMARs operated and navigated the ship and transported patients via small boats, Navy medical personnel worked side-by-side with partners from other U.S. military services, host and partner nations, and non-governmental organizations to staff Comfort's shipboard hospital and shoreside medical treatment sites.
"There is no doubt that every person on this ship - every civil service mariner, service member, medical personnel and non-governmental organization volunteer - did phenomenal work," said Capt. Thomas Finger, Comfort's civil service master. "The patients in every country we visited were grateful and impressed by the willingness of people on the ship to leave their families for months to help those less fortunate."
In addition to medial services, Comfort's team included veterinarians who treated 13,238 animals and Navy Seabees who completed 13 construction projects ranging from minor renovations of facilities to building new schools.
None of this work, however, could have been conducted without close coordination between the medical mission and Comfort's civil service mariners.
Thomas Sellers, Comfort's navigator who not only navigated the ship, but also drove the utility boats that connected patients and doctors when the ship was anchored off shore, enjoyed the hands-on role that the CIVMARs played in the medical mission. "MSC's role in most of our missions is to support. This mission was different because we were directly part of the end goal," said Sellers. "I felt a profound sense of accomplishment every day."
Finger agrees. Even with more than 30 years of experience sailing for MSC, he said of this mission, "It's the most personally rewarding assignment I've ever had. Anyone who has participated in this mission even for a short while would recognize the value it has in bridging cultural and national boundaries."
When not deployed, Comfort is kept in reduced operating status in Baltimore where a small crew of about 18 civil service mariners and 58 Navy medical personnel maintain the ship in a high state of readiness. When activated, Comfort can transition to full operating status in five days.
Before returning to Baltimore, Comfort stopped in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and then Norfolk, Va., where First Lady Michelle Obama honored Comfort's crew and the crew of aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in a speech marking the ships' return from deployment.
Military Sealift Command operates approximately 110 noncombatant civilian-crewed ships. These ships move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces and coalition partners, replenish U.S. Navy and coalition ships, chart ocean bottoms, conduct specialized missions and strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world.
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