NORFOLK (NNS) -- Hospital Ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) departed Norfolk, April 1 for a four-month deployment to the U.S. Southern Command area of focus in support of Continuing Promise 2009.
CP09 is an equal partnership mission between the United States and its international partners to provide humanitarian and civic assistance in seven countries located in Latin America and the Caribbean. Comfort will visit Antigua and Barbuda, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Panama.
"The Comfort will serve as a Navy platform through which U.S. military, interagency personnel, partner nations and non-governmental organizations will carry out humanitarian efforts," said Navy Capt. Robert G. Lineberry, CP09 mission commander. "It's a great team of people going down to Latin America and the Caribbean to do great things."
The hospital ship has been configured to provide health services and engineering support through humanitarian assistance and disaster response. Additionally, Comfort leadership explained how the ship will provide the host nations with the services of a fully functional hospital. Originally, the ship was an oil tender converted to a hospital ship meant to serve as a platform for treating war casualties.
"What this mission does is it validates the role the Comfort can play in addition to its combat casualty role," said Capt. Thomas Finger, USNS Comfort's civil service master. "We have an opportunity to make friends around the world and provide services to those who might not otherwise have access to them."
"Finger and his crew of 64 civil service mariners from Military Sealift Command are responsible for operating, navigating and maintaining the ship, as well as running two utility boats to ferry patients and mission personnel between the ship and shore."
The Comfort has been involved in several humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions, since it was delivered to the Navy's Military Sealift Command Dec. 1, 1987. The Comfort's most recent missions include: Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm (August 1990 -April 1991), Operation Sea Signal (June - August 1994), Operation Uphold Democracy (Sept. - Oct. 1994), Operation Noble Eagle (in response to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center Sept. 11, 2001), Operation Iraqi Freedom (January - June 2003), Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (September - October 2005) and Partnership for the Americas (June - October 2007).
The host nations are not the only international partners aiding in the success of the mission. Canada, Chile, France, and the Netherlands are all key components to the mission and will play in the successful completion of CP09 this year.
"This is really an international mission," said Navy Capt. James J. Ware, USNS Comfort medical treatment facility manager. "The volunteer efforts of the civilians from the 12 partner nations, who are going to be contributing, cannot go without notice. It's a medical mission, an engineering mission and it's a goodwill mission to partner with the nations in the Caribbean and Central and South America."
Comfort leadership explained how the Comfort will be a ship of peace, prosperity and goodwill over the four-month deployment in the selected regions. They thanked the non-government organizations (NGOs) and volunteers employed throughout the duration of the mission. The NGOs participating are: Agua Via, Food for the Poor, Foundation for the Advancement of Children's Esthetics (FACE), Hugs Across America, International Aid, Islamic Relief USA, Latter Day Saints Charities, Lions Club, Nour International Relief Aid, Operation Smile, Paul Chester Children's Hope Foundation, Project Handclasp, Project HOPE, Rochester Medical Missions, Rotary Club International, UCSD Pre-Dental Society, University of Maryland, and The Wheelchair Foundation.
"We would not be able to pull this mission off without the support of the NGOs we'll have aboard," Ware said. "The amount of people who have volunteered from their respective organizations is absolutely amazing."
According to Ware, training is also a very important part of this mission. The experience gained by the Comfort and host nation crews is exponential when it comes to improving relations and disaster relief among participating nations' medical teams, he said.
"Really, it's a training mission between the countries and the different groups of healthcare providers," Ware said. "What we're attempting to do is train with the governments of the countries and with their respective medical staffs. So, if we ever had to do either a hurricane or an earthquake type of disaster relief mission, we would have already made interactions with these countries and have a feel for how we work together."
CP09 is a mission which promotes sustained international partnership through joint humanitarian health care services. Every member of the team is just as critical as the next to mission success. Whether the team member is an element of the U.S. Armed Forces, an international partner or a volunteer from the numerous NGOs aboard, their contributions will be felt by every "Partner of the Americas."
"This mission is about touching people's lives," said Ware.
For more news from USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), visit www.navy.mil/local/tah20/.