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Hospital Ship USNS Comfort Departs Norfolk for Medical Mission

NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) — The U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) left from Naval Station Norfolk, June 14, to begin its deployment to South America, Central America, and the Caribbean.

During its deployment, Comfort will provide medical assistance in support of regional partners and in response to the regional impacts of the Venezuela political and economic crisis.

“We are embarking on a five-month deployment to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility to embark on a humanitarian assistance mission,” said Capt. B.J. Diebold, Comfort’s mission commander. “Our mission will consist of multinational personnel from across our partner nations as well as allied personnel, non-governmental organizations, and U.S. Navy personnel.”

While deployed, Comfort’s mission will include stops in Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama, Saint Lucia, and St. Kitts and Nevis.

U.S. military medical personnel aboard Comfort will work alongside a variety of governmental agencies to provide medical assistance to communities based on needs identified by host-nation health ministries, and to relieve pressure on host nation medical systems in countries hosting Venezuelans who have fled the country’s crisis.

“This deployment responds directly to the man-made crisis Maduro’s regime has created,” said U.S. Navy Adm. Craig Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, which will oversee the deployment. “Comfort medical teams will be working alongside host nation medical professionals who are absorbing thousands of Venezuelan migrants and refugees. The Venezuelan people are desperately fleeing their homeland for hope of a better way of life. We are committed to finding ways to support the Venezuelan people and our regional partners who share the goal of seeing a legitimate, democratic government reinstated in Venezuela.”

This marks the hospital ship’s seventh deployment to the region since 2007, second deployment to the Western Hemisphere in the last six months, and reflects the United States’ enduring promise of friendship, partnership, and solidarity with the people of the Americas. The USNS Comfort deployment is part of the Caribbean 2020 Strategy to increase the security, prosperity and well-being of the people of the United States and the Caribbean.

“We are deploying with 197 credentialed medical professionals that are joint forces, that’s public health, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Army providers aboard, combined with my full staff of over 800 people,” said Capt. Kevin Buckley, commanding officer, USNS Comfort Medical Treatment Facility. “Currently, we also have 13 multinational providers, including personnel from Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and Costa Rica. There’s potentially approximately 100 medical providers coming from the civilian non-governmental organizations (NGO) partners as well as other host nations that may be joining us during the mission stops.”

A team of Military Sealift Command civil service mariners will oversee the ship’s operation and navigation for Comfort’s deployment.

As part of the planning for Comfort’s deployment, the health ministries in each country will determine how patients are seen.  The majority of patients will be treated at Comfort’s land-based medical sites.  Select patients may be chosen for the hospital ship’s onboard surgical services.

The medical and dental capabilities provided during this deployment will assist communities with a wide range of health services.  These services will include basic medical evaluation and treatment, preventive medicine, dental screenings and treatment, optometry screenings, eyewear distribution, general surgery, ophthalmologic surgery, public health training, and additional specialties as required.

“We expect to help thousands of people while we are on this mission and impact lives,” Buckley said. “We will be providing surgeries for patients onboard USNS Comfort. These will be low-risk surgeries with high economic impact. The surgery services we will provide have some of the biggest impact economically and help not only the patients themselves but help their families.”

A U.S. Navy hospital ship has the capacity to provide afloat, mobile, acute surgical medical facilities to the U.S. military, and is an optimal platform to provide hospital services in support of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations worldwide.

“It is a great honor to have this opportunity, and we are really looking forward to this mission and to continuing building the strength of our partnerships throughout the region,” added Diebold.

Comfort’s deployment demonstrates the U.S. commitment to the Americas and is part of a continuum of support provided by U.S. Southern Command.  USSOUTHCOM-sponsored civic assistance and humanitarian missions happen in close cooperation with partner nations in the region as well as with U.S. interagency partners. Similar missions include Continuing Promise, New Horizons, Beyond the Horizon, medical readiness training exercises and the Medical Civil Action Program. 

USSOUTHCOM is one of the nation’s six geographically focused unified commands, with responsibility for U.S. military operations in the Caribbean and Central and South America.

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