Civil Service Mariners Conduct Survey for Comfort's Continued Support
By Petty Officer 2nd Class Stephane Belcher, Navy Medicine East
Civil service mariners (CIVMARs) aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) surveyed berths for the ship along the shore of Ponce, Puerto Rico, Oct. 23.
It’s not typical to conduct hands-on surveys of a pier, but after traumatic experiences, like hurricanes, there could be damage to the ports–that’s when someone needs to make sure the pier is still structurally sound.
“This side of the island was hit harder than the other,” said Gerald Butch, the boatswain and a civil service mariner embarked on Comfort. “We need to check out the harbor and what facilities they have.”
Third Officer Nathan Grant went on one of Comfort’s two rigid hull inflatable boats to do the survey with a waters depth sounder that tells him how much water is below him. He ran the length of the pier and saw there was 50 feet of water and used a sounding tape that stops when it hits the bottom.
“Today’s mission was a reconnaissance mission of the port,” said Grant. “To see if we can do a similar [patient] tender ops, like we did in Arecibo, and also the possibility of maybe pulling in the entire Comfort vessel because there’s a container terminal there. To see if it was able to support us, similar to what we did in San Juan.”
Ensuring there’s no obstruction that occurred in the port is vital, especially with a ship as large as Comfort. But the 85 CIVMARs working around-the-clock for this hybrid ship provide much more. They support the military treatment facility (MTF) by ensuring the ship is operational.
“We work seamlessly together,” said First Officer Andrew Cheng. “There’s the hull side, which is the operations of the ship. We navigate, we communicate and we operate the plans and all the facilities on board while the MTF operates the hospital. We provide them with the ability to operate the hospital. We get them there, we drive the ship.”
Comfort is a seagoing medical treatment facility that currently has more than 800 personnel embarked for the Puerto Rico mission including Navy medical and support staff assembled from 22 commands, as well as the 85 CIVMARs.
The Department of Defense is supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which coordinates all federal assistance requested by the government of Puerto Rico to help those affected by Hurricane Maria.
Comfort’s primary mission is to provide an afloat, mobile, acute surgical medical facility to the U.S. military that is flexible, capable, and uniquely adaptable to support expeditionary warfare. Comfort’s secondary mission is to provide full hospital services to support U.S. disaster relief and humanitarian operations worldwide.