PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) -- The U.S. Navy is a combination of Sailors from all over the country and abroad. As Sailors, we are given the opportunity to travel the globe to provide aid and defense. In this case, the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) is visiting Central and South America as part of the U.S. SOUTHCOMS’s Enduring Promise initiative, a mission to provide medical assistance to the countries of Ecuador, Honduras, Peru and Colombia.
It’s not every day that a Sailor has the opportunity to re-visit their home country as part of a mission. For a select few, it’s about returning to the soil that they once called home to help provide aid to friends and family.
Lt. Jamie Zhunepluas, the communications officer aboard Comfort and an Ecuadorian- American, is one of those Sailors.
“I was born in Ecuador, but I left when I was five,” said Zhunepluas. “I grew up in Queens, N.Y., and in late 1999, I joined the Navy as a hospital corpsman.”
After serving enlisted for 13 years, Zhunepluas became interested in information technology and was commissioned as a naval officer in 2013. He utilizes his expertise in the medical field with his interest in information technology to work in medical planning evolutions and missions.
“My role aboard Comfort is to make sure the network and radios are up and running, as well as ensuring that all programs, policies and standard operating procedures are up-to-date,” said Zhunepluas. “Making sure the troops are taken care of and have all the resources they need to accomplish the mission objective is my goal.”
Zhunepluas remains focused on his responsibilities but also finds himself excited and eager to step foot in the country where he was born.
“I’m happy to be aboard Comfort and to be a part of this mission,” said Zhunepluas. “I told my family in N.Y. about it and they’re very excited! They’re looking forward to see something from me when I get back.”
Zhunepluas is not alone in his eagerness to return home. Lt. Cmdr. Adrian Mora, a diagnostic radiologist aboard Comfort, also finds himself on this mission to provide care and support to his birthplace. Mora was born and raised in Kito, Ecuador, and left for the U.S. at age nine.
“This is truly a humbling and honorable opportunity for me personally,” said Mora. “Just to come back to my home country and give back to the people of Ecuador. I am just lucky to be a part of this mission.”
Mora will be with the medical teams going ashore to use their specialties to provide advanced medical care directly to the people of Ecuador.
“We are going to be at two separate sites,” said Mora. “Both will have radiological capabilities, and I will be performing interpretations of diagnostic imaging for all the patients that come through.”
Aside from the mission, Mora knows the value of Comfort’s aid to Ecuador.
“I think both countries can look at this mission and take the opportunity to grow together moving forward,” said Mora.
Comfort is on an 11-week medical support mission to Central and South America as part of U.S. Southern Command’s Enduring Promise initiative. Working with health and government partners in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Honduras, the embarked medical team will provide care on board and at land-based medical sites, helping to relieve pressure on national medical systems caused partly by an increase in cross-border migrants. The deployment reflects the United States’ enduring promise of friendship, partnership and solidarity with the Americas.
For more news from U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command & U.S. 4th Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/cusns/.