BETHESDA, Md. (NNS) -- Nearly two years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, crew members from USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) have been awarded the Humanitarian Service Medal (HSM) for their deployment to New York City (NYC) in support of Operation Noble Eagle.
The three-week mission, which started out with the hope of providing medical aid to possible World Trade Center (WTC) survivors, ended up being a logistical mission for the 1,000-bed hospital ship. Regularly designed to care for war-wounded service members, Comfort provided immediate humanitarian relief for thousands of "Ground Zero" workers and other NYC personnel.
"In a matter of hours, the crew of Comfort mobilized, got underway and changed mission from trauma support to disaster relief, providing much needed respite for the relief workers in New York City," said Capt. Charles Blankenship, Comfort commanding officer. "The rapidity with which the mission changed, the quick response from the crew, and the ability to carry out one mission while preparing for a possible follow-on mission, demonstrated the mobility, flexibility and capability offered by this platform and crew."
Nearly 150 Comfort Sailors are now authorized to wear the HSM. Many of the medal recipients are staff members regularly assigned to the National Naval Medical Center and other shore facilities along the East Coast. Comfort, which lay berthed in Baltimore, Md., also has a small contingent crew of 58. Those who served during the NYC mission, among those, will also be authorized the HSM.
During the ship's deployment to NYC, crew members provided food and shelter for more than 10,000 relief workers. Comfort's 24-hour galley also fed an impressive 30,000 meals, and the ship's Supply Department washed more than 4,000 lbs. of laundry, often replacing torn shirts and pants, as well as ripped boots, with clothing donations from the American Red Cross.
Comfort flight deck personnel also supported the city and other government agencies that required helicopter landings and layovers. In fact, the ship was designated by the City of New York as the secure location for emergency landings for VIP personnel.
Although Comfort's main mission was logistical, its medical resources were also used to provide first-aid and sick call services to nearly 600 people. The ship's psychological response team also saw more than 500 patients, helping many relief workers mentally prepare before heading back out to the WTC site.
New York City police officer Kevin O'Keeffe, who came aboard the ship with fellow police officers, said, "The people on this ship are really amazing. When we first came on board, someone escorted us to the galley. It was like they rolled the red carpet out for us. As cops, we don't get treated like this unless it is Thanksgiving or Christmas, and we are at home.
"We want to say thank you to everyone on the ship and in the military."
Comfort's Web site, www.comfort.navy.mil, plans to post a list of those authorized to wear the HSM.
For related news, visit the National Naval Medical Center Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/nnmc.