Military Sealift Command Public Affairs
March 6, 2017
We are Ready for Anything
Comfort Exercise 17
By Bill Mesta, Military Sealift Command Public Affairs
NORFOLK (NNS) -- U.S. Navy Sailors and civil service mariners (CIVMARS) who crew Military Sealift Command's hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) pulled back into Naval Station Norfolk after completing Comfort Exercise (COMFEX) 17, Feb. 24.
COMFEX 17 was an advanced-phase training exercise designed to prepare the ship and crew for the upcoming amphibious exercise, Bold Alligator (BA) 17.
"Our COMFEX was our last dress rehearsal in preparation for the world's largest amphibious wargame, BA 17," said Capt. Lanny Boswell, commanding officer of Comfort's medical treatment facility. "The Comfort conducts a COMFEX quarterly and each is a training battery designed to keep the medical personnel, support staff, and civil service mariners who serve aboard USNS Comfort sharp. It is important for us to conduct this quarterly training program to be ready to respond wherever and whenever the Navy needs us."
"We have built on the lessons the crew has learned from previous COMFEXs," said Boswell. "This exercise was the culmination of turning those training experiences into a highly successful COMFEX 17."
COMFEX 17 was based on a multi-day scenario which simulated the ship's response to service members being wounded in combat during a U.S. Marine Corps amphibious assault. Comfort was required to receive casualties and provide acute medical care. Some of the simulated trauma the crew was faced with included amputations, severe burns, and extensive internal wounds.
"When the Comfort is called into action, we have approximately a 1,200-person crew who gets underway," said Boswell. "The majority of the medical professionals who are part of our crew spend much of their time at other Navy medical facilities. As such, when the bell rings, we have five days to bring everyone we need aboard and respond to a crisis."
COMFEX 17 included the use of both live role players and human casualty simulators which offered medical professionals and support enablers a realistic training environment.
"The simulators have proven to be very valuable training aids for simulating medical emergencies," said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Patrick Gravel of Naval Medical Center Portsmouth's Healthcare Simulation Center. "These mannequins are more effective than traditional advanced medical training methods. The simulators are anatomically correct when compared to human subjects, and have advanced to a level which leads to very accurate and efficient training."
Comfort has three primary missions: at-sea mobile medical support to the warfighter, providing full hospital services to support U.S. disaster relief, and humanitarian operations worldwide.
"The Comfort is the largest Role III medical facility afloat and its primary mission is to support the warfighter," said Capt. Paul Arp, head of Comfort's nursing department. "We are an agile ship and crew with tremendous capabilities and professionals who are ready to meet all of the Navy's requirements."
"The crew threw itself into the COMFEX 17 scenario and brought a very diverse skill set to bear," said Arp. "For a large percent of the crew, this was their first COMFEX so there was a steep learning curve. But the crew got 'on plane' very rapidly and performed wonderfully."
The five-day COMFEX 17 included two mass casualty drills, helicopter flight operations, and an abandon ship drill.
"Even though COMFEX 17 was a training scenario, it highlighted how capable our team really is," said Cmdr. Shawn Brown, a nurse anesthetist aboard Comfort.
The Comfort crew also performed a man overboard drill, fire response training, and a full medical inventory. An additional highlight was the performance of a rescue-at-sea scenario using both of the ship's tenders, CIVMAR surface rescue swimmers and role-players acting as wounded Sailors after their ship was destroyed in combat.
During the exercise, Comfort was crewed by approximately 400 U.S. Navy medical professionals, support enablers, and CIVMARS.
"The CIVMARs aboard are much more than 'ship drivers,'" said Andrew Chen, Comfort's chief mate. "We are active members of the team and are here to enable the military treatment facility (MTF) in successful mission execution. Our CIVMARs are always here to support the MTF."
Comfort's CIVMARs perform a wide variety of critical ships tasks including navigation, propulsion, water and electrical services for the MTF.
"The service members and civilians who crew the Comfort are the best of the best," concluded Boswell. "Our people excelled during COMFEX 17 and we are ready for Bold Alligator 17."
Comfort is scheduled for a shipyard availability soon prior to its participation in Bold Alligator 17, later this year.