SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (NNS) -- Joint-military crew members and non-governmental organization (NGO) volunteers serving aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) kicked off Continuing Promise 2015 (CP-15) mission operations on Aug. 14.
An opening ceremony held at the 27 de Febrero Naval Base marked the start of the ninth mission stop during Comfort's six-month deployment and the third time that the Continuing Promise mission has visited the Dominican Republic.
CP-15 mission operations began over the weekend, where NGO volunteers and military medical professionals from the Dominican Republic Ministry of Health worked alongside Comfort medical professionals to provide no-cost medical and dental services. Just days into the Dominican Republic mission stop, medical providers have cared for over 3,000 patients at two locations, Parque del Este and Hermandad de los Pensionados.
"We have volunteers from the Dominican Republic working with us as interpreters, which really helps us get patients the care they are seeking, making it a successful start to our time in the Dominican Republic," said Cmdr. Anna Gruetzmacher, medical site officer in charge. "We also have several NGO volunteers each day, and their help is a large part of the overall mission success."
In addition to the medical services provided, more than 40 surgeries have been conducted aboard Comfort during this mission stop. Many NGO volunteer medical professionals are working alongside Comfort medical professionals to provide pre and post operative care which contributes to the success of each surgery.
"We are all oriented to the same goal - patient care," said Gina Strickland a registered nurse volunteer with Project HOPE. "The Navy and everyone here is very cooperative and I am proud to be a part of that."
Volunteers from the NGO Operation Smile have scheduled 100 surgeries onboard Comfort for their patients. Operation Smile was previously onboard Comfort during the Nicaragua and Panama mission stops. Operation Smile is a worldwide children's medical charity that provides free surgery to children born with a cleft lip or cleft palate. With a presence in more than 60 countries, the organization has provided free surgeries to children around the world since 1982.
"It is very rewarding to be working with Operation Smile again," said Cmdr. Robert Fetherston, the assistant director of surgical services aboard Comfort. "Our success here not only depends on collaborating with the NGOs, but also with each individual department to get the patients to the ship safely, prepped for surgery, and treated by our amazing surgical team."
Comfort medical teams have already conducted Basic Life Support classes, instructed a neonatal resuscitative program class and conducted patient administration collaboration at the Hospital Maternidad.
Additionally, Comfort biomedical technicians evaluated medical equipment, and Sailors and NGO volunteers toured the medical facilities at the Hospital Dr. Francisco Moscoso Puello. Other subject matter expert exchanges (SMEE) will take place throughout the mission stop at the Hospital Dr. Francisco Moscoso Puello, the Hospital Central Fuerzas Armadas, and aboard Comfort.
Teaming up with Dominican veterinarian volunteers, the Army veterinarians, veterinary technicians and volunteer veterinarians from the NGO, World Vets, coordinated with the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Agriculture to administer rabies vaccinations and de-worming medication to more than 440 local animals.
The engineering portion of the CP-15 mission in the Dominican Republic commenced at the Centro de Educacin Nuestra Señora del Carmen Primary School where the Navy Seabees, assigned to Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 202 (CBMU 202) in Virginia Beach, Va., and Jacksonville, Fla., are building desks and installing electrical wiring and water fountains. Seabees are also installing a perimeter fence at the second engineering site, Direccion General de Edicacion Especial Centro Nacional de Recursos.
Comfort's Chaplain Services department coordinated a soccer game with local Dominican's and the Ministry of Youth, Sports, Culture and Constituency Empowerment Youth Development Division. CP-15 team members participated in the first soccer game of the mission stop and also handed out donations of soccer balls and CP-15 shirts at the event. Several other community relations (COMREL) projects and sporting events will take place during the CP-15 mission stop in the Dominican Republic.
"Interacting with the communities and coordinating with the Ministry of Youth builds upon relationships we've established in past years with the Dominican Republic," said Lt. Cmdr. Jay Kersten, a Navy Chaplain assigned to Comfort. "These events foster the foundation of more friendships that will help us collaborate on future engagements and potentially, another CP mission."
Since deploying in April, Comfort has completed mission stops in Belize, Guatemala, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador, Colombia and Dominica. Additional stops are planned for Haiti, and Honduras. To date, more than 86,400 patients have been seen and more than 940 surgeries have been performed aboard Comfort.
Continuing Promise is a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored and U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet-conducted deployment to conduct civil-military operations including humanitarian-civil assistance, subject matter expert exchanges, medical, dental, veterinary and engineering support and disaster response to partner nations and to show the United States' continued support and commitment to Central and South America and the Caribbean.
For more news from Continuing Promise, visit www.navy.mil/local/cp/.