A Sea Story – USNS Comfort

The Compass blog is all about the Coast Guard missions and the people performing them. Typically, I link to relevant and interesting news stories or current events that highlight our operations. Occasionally, I get wind of a story that may not make it to the mainstream media but illustrates Guardians in action and, in particular, Guardians performing missions on the high seas.

Here is just such a story. It’s from Chief Health Services Technician (HSC) Perry who is deployed onboard the USNS Comfort. The Comfort will return tomorrow from a four-month deployment.
On March 25, 2009, four Coast Guardsmen, HSC Ray Francis, HS2 Brian Maksin, HS3 Anthony Passalacqua and myself, came together to embarked on a one of the most rewarding deployments of my Coast Guard career. The USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) departed Norfolk, VA on April 1st for Continuing Promise 2009, a four month humanitarian/disaster relief training mission to the Caribbean and South America, making stops in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Antigua and Barbuda, Panama, Columbia, El Salvador and Nicaragua. The mission was comprised of Coast Guard, Navy, Marines, Army, Air Force and Public Health Service personnel as well as military members from Canada, the Netherlands, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Antigua, Nicaragua, Panama and El Salvador. Additionally, several non-governmental organizations, like Project Hope, Latter Day Saints Charities, Rotary International, UCSD Pre-Dental Society and Operation Smile, took part in the mission providing medical, dental, physical therapy, veterinary, and engineering services.

We really had two missions onboard Comfort. First, we were assigned to Sickbay, where we provided medical care to the crew. HSC Francis, HS2 Maksin and myself were three of five Independent duty corpsman in charge of sickcall onboard and all for of us were members of the Medical Response teams that responded to over 15 medical emergencies on board. Secondly, in each countries the Coast Guard played a vital role in the mission. Chief Francis and I were Assistant Site Leaders in all seven Countries. In a nutshell, it was the assistant site leaders that ran each medical site ensuring proper patient flow and medical operations at the site. HS2 Maksin’s was an Assistant Site Leader, patient tracker, assisted the dermatologist ashore and was the secondary Sea Bees corpsman. HS3 Passalacqua was the Sea Bee’s primary Corpsman. In each of the Countries, he worked independently with the Sea Bees at their construction sites.

As the mission comes to a close, there are so many memories but one Haitian girl stands out and exemplifies our mission. Her father carried her to our site. I saw several people holding her in line, so I grabbed a wheelchair for her to sit in. She had a blast in the wheelchair, laughing as I pushed around the medical site. After seeing the medical staff, I was able to give her that wheel chair. She grabbed me by the neck and would not let go for what seemed like 10 minutes.

She was just one of the lives changed by the Comfort’s staff and I am blessed to have been a part this mission.

– HSC W. Stan Perry