JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (NNS) -- Military, non-government agency planners and prospective participants in the upcoming Continuing Promise 2013 humanitarian assistance deployment worked on the details of the operation during a mission planning conference Dec. 11-13 by Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/4th Fleet.
Continuing Promise, the sixth iteration of a U.S. Southern Command training mission introduced in 2007, will include the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), a Military Sealift Command asset, for the fourth year.
Capt. Ace Van Wagoner, commander, Destroyer Squadron 40 at Naval Station Mayport, is the mission commander, and Capt. Kevin Knoop will command the roughly 600-member medical staff, to be drawn mainly from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va., and augmented by the Army and Air Force, other government agencies, nongovernmental organizations and multinational partner nation personnel.
From early April though August 2013, Continuing Promise will provide medical and dental care, preventive medicine and veterinary consulting, and construction projects in eight countries: Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Peru.
As in previous years, hundreds of surgeries will be performed aboard the Comfort, and thousands of patients will be treated ashore - an effort that Rear Adm. Sinclair Harris, the U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and 4th Fleet commander, called "real work for real people that will make a real difference in their lives."
The mission has an enhanced focus, however. Building on relationships created in previous years, participants will consider each visit a subject-matter expert exchange, working together to increase the capacities of countries and communities to provide for themselves.
Capt. Christine Dorr, the fleet surgeon for 4th Fleet, became a proponent of the new emphasis after serving aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) in Indonesia in 2005 and then attending the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in Washington.
In Indonesia, she removed a 15-pound ovarian tumor from a 41-year-old woman who - on every day she remained aboard the Mercy - kissed the doctor on the cheek, saying, "Thank you. You gave me my life back."
More recently, Dorr thought about what the Comfort and the Continuing Promise medical staff could accomplish. Like the United States, the countries to be visited have places where superior medical care is available, and places where citizens are underserved. Where there are disparities, Continuing Promise participants will work alongside government officials and medical professionals to meet the day-to-day needs of communities and to prepare to respond together in disaster relief.
Following pre-deployment site surveys in which they relied on local professionals to describe the needs of their communities, the multinational members of the medical staff resolved to continue the partnership approach throughout Continuing Promise 2013. They will focus on best practices in the host nations, and they will work with local doctors, nurses and dentists as much as possible when providing care.
In the end, the United States and host nations will share the credit for the good that is done.
"As you look around the room, you see on many faces - military, civilian and volunteer - what CP13 is all about," said Van Wagoner, the mission commander, as the conference concluded. "Coordination, collaboration, with a ton of caring. It is also clear that there is a lot of work to do. The devil is in the details," he said.
For more news from U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command & U.S. 4th Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/cusns/.