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Good afternoon, everyone! It is wonderful to be with you here at Naval Medical Center San Diego. Every time I visit this hospital, I am in awe of the incredible view you have of the Coronado Bridge, as well the warships of our nation’s Pacific Fleet.
Sometimes I feel like every Sailor, Marine, and civilian in our Department requests to be stationed here in San Diego, and I know why…
Thank you, Captain Adriano, for your warm welcome, and for sharing with us your insights into the role that Naval Medical Center San Diego plays in our Navy.
To our Third Fleet Commander, Vice Admiral Boyle, Commander Naval Medical Forces Pacific, Rear Admiral Valdes, and all of our flag and general officers, thank you for joining us this afternoon.
Finally, I would like to recognize the representatives here today from the military and private healthcare organizations that support our Marines and Sailors stationed in southern California.
You and your organizations have dedicated yourselves to meeting the healthcare needs of our Navy and Marine Corps and I cannot thank you enough for the role you play in ensuring our personnel and their families are ready and resilient.
Today, we stand here at a military hospital nestled in San Diego’s 1,200 acre backyard — Balboa Park.
It is this unique location that resulted in the affectionate nickname for Naval Medical Center San Diego — Balboa.
And we are proud of the connection that this nickname provides between our Navy medical personnel and the local community they are a major part of.
The story of Naval Medical Center San Diego starts in 1917 as a small dispensary, providing limited medical services to military personnel.
By the end of World War I in 1918, that small dispensary grew to a hospital with over 800 beds.
Just two years after the Navy first opened the dispensary, the 41st Secretary of the Navy — Josephus Daniels — re-designated the dispensary to Naval Hospital San Diego.
And with that name change, the hospital continued to grow.
Throughout World War II, more than 150,000 patients were treated at the hospital, including burn patients from the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Between 1964 and 1975, the hospital earned the distinction as the largest military medical facility in the world.
In 1968, the hospital hired its first five civilian social workers to help with readjustment treatment for prisoners of wars—the first civilian social workers to serve in the United States Navy.
And in 2007, the hospital established the Comprehensive Combat and Complex Casualty Care (C5) Program, managing severely wounded, ill, or injured patients, supporting either their eventual return to active duty or transition from the military.
More recently, in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, Naval Medical Center San Diego became one of the first COVID-19 vaccine sites in the world, marking a historic turning point during the pandemic.
Today, this hospital’s personnel continue to conduct ground-breaking medical research, discover new and innovative approaches to the delivery of world-class medical care, and provides a medical residency program for over a dozen medical specialties to develop our next generation of military doctors.
The contributions of this medical center over the past 100 years, represented by the care its personnel delivers to our Sailors, Marines, and families, are absolutely incredible.
The guiding principle of Navy Medicine is to align its people and platforms in order to enhance warfighter health, wellness, and performance.
I can say, with full confidence, that Naval Medical Center San Diego achieves this on a daily basis.
And today, I am pleased to announce that, in honor of the dedicated doctors, nurses, corpsman, medical practitioners, and staff of Naval Medical Center San Diego, we will be welcoming a USNS Balboa into our fleet.
USNS Balboa (EMS 2), once commissioned, will be our nation’s newest Bethesda-class Expeditionary Medical Ship (EMS).
Expeditionary Medical Ships are high-speed ships that are optimized to provide hospital-level care in support of distributed maritime operations.
Their design features a shallow draft enabling direct access to shallow, austere ports, providing them with greater reach than USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort.
With this new class of ship, we are setting forth the Naval tradition of naming EMS ships in honor of our distinguished naval hospitals, as well as the men and women who staff them.
I am also pleased to announce that our ship sponsor for USNS Balboa will be Mrs. Deborah Paxton.
As a nurse and the wife of General John Paxton, the 33rd Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, Mrs. Paxton dedicated her career to ensuring the well-being of our Sailors, Marines, and their families.
Most notably, she spent 13 years as a civil servant, serving as the Mental Health Advisor to the Marine Corps’ Wounded Warrior Regiment.
Her tenacity and nursing background made her the perfect advisor, leader, and friend that the Wounded Warrior Regiment and its recovering Marines and Sailors needed.
According to naval tradition, a ship sponsor’s spirit and presence guides the ship and her crew throughout her time in service, serving as the bond that connects the ship to its namesake.
I have no doubt that Mrs. Paxton will be that bond between the ship, her crew, and the community of medical professionals here at Naval Medical Center San Diego.
And while Mrs. Paxton cannot be with us today, I am pleased that we have her friend and former colleague, Command Advisor to the Wounded Warrior Regiment, Mr. Paul Williamson, here to speak on her behalf and share how much this honor means to her.
To the doctors, nurses, corpsman and staff — both uniformed and civilian — here at Balboa, I cannot thank you enough for your continued efforts to enable our Sailors, Marines, and their families to perform at their best, ensuring the health readiness and community of our Fleet and of our Force.
May God continue to grant our nation and our people fair winds and following seas. Thank you.
Carlos Del Toro
27 October 2023
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