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Military Sealift Command Public Affairs
MSC PAO 98-32
For more information, contact:
Marge Holtz or Frank Randall
(202) 685-5055
August 12, 1998

Comfort Meets Baltic Challenge
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USNS Comfort, one of the Navy's two hospital ships, returned today from Baltic Challenge '98, a multinational military exercise in the Baltic Sea near Lithuania. Comfort tied up at the Port of Baltimore at 2 p.m.

The 894-foot state-of-the-art hospital ship, part of the Military Sealift Command's Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force, is crewed by 63 civilian mariners. The immense white ship with its huge red crosses carries an embarked Medical Treatment Facility that provides emergency surgical care for U.S. forces in war fighting or contingency operations. MTF commander Capt. Kevin O'Connell, Medical Corps, USN, commended the Comfort's Master, Capt. Bill Thomas, "who worked tirelessly on the One Ship-One Crew-One Mission concept."

The MTF, when fully staffed with 1,200 Navy medical and support people, is one of the largest trauma facilities in the world. It contains a 1,000-bed hospital with 12 operating rooms and features the latest medical and surgical technology, as well as sophisticated radiology, laboratory and pharmacy services. All were tested during Baltic Challenge '98, a Partnership For Peace exercise conducted off the coast of Lithuania, especially during a 230-person casualty drill and the training of more than 100 Baltic nation medical personnel in casualty care. Some challenges, however, went beyond the planned mission.

Telemedicine conferencing, a state-of-the-art medical capability aboard Comfort, showed doctors and government officials from participating nations just how effective Comfort and her medical complement could be when a humanitarian request for neurosurgery was received through the American Embassy.

U.S. Navy Commander Ross Moquin, a neurosurgeon aboard Comfort, evaluated a 13-year-old Lithuanian boy born with a tumor in his head. Dr. Moquin consulted with his colleagues at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda by satellite, reviewing imagery from tests and CAT scans done on the boy. A team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, radiologists, nurses and a variety of technicians participated in the successful surgery. The boy, Vidmantas Tvardauskiene, returned to Lithuania and his very happy family.

Almost at the same time, four sailors from Comfort, while on liberty in the Lithuanian town of Klaipeda, proved that courage continues to be a part the U.S. Navy. The quick response and teamwork of ABH1 Edward McCellan, ABF2 Anthony Garcia, HM3 Jody Money, and HM3 Donald Montgomery rescued a Lithuanian man from the Dane River in front of seemingly paralyzed onlookers. The rescuers assessed and monitored the man's condition until the local rescue squad arrived. The sailors' actions helped save the man's life.

Two firsts came to light during Comfort's mission. This is believed to be the first time a U.S. ship this size (only aircraft carriers are larger) has entered the Baltic Sea since World War II. At the same time, it was Comfort's first mission to Europe for a multinational exercise.

During Baltic Challenge '98, the MTF was operated by approximately 750 U.S. Navy physicians, dentists, nurses, and medical and logistical support personnel. The MTF, while supported mainly from the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., included medical professionals from the Naval Hospital at Portsmouth, Va., and several other East Coast medical units and commands.

In 1994, Comfort participated in the Haitian migrant rescue effort, providing medical support for migrant processing operations and hotel services for U.S. government personnel conducting the operations. Comfort also provided medical and surgical support to the U.S. Naval Hospital Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for Haitian and Cuban refugees. Comfort served in the Gulf War, along with her sister ship, USNS Mercy. While in the Persian Gulf, Comfort treated more than 8,000 outpatients and admitted 716 patients.

Baltic Challenge '98 included the participation of ten European nations and the United States. Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and Poland all participated, along with the United States. The exercise included 4,600 military personnel, 17 ships, and assorted aircraft. Comfort will return to reduced operating status, ready on five-day notice for future call-ups.

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