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USTRANSCOM staff members join USNS Comfort as she completes 'Continuing Promise'

USTRANSCOM staff members join USNS Comfort as she completes 'Continuing Promise'

Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort steamed into its home port in Baltimore the first week in August. A group of U.S. Transportation Command staff members were among those "manning the rails" as the ship ended her four-month humanitarian and civic assistance mission to Latin America and the Caribbean, known as "Continuing Promise 2009."

The USTRANSCOM group included Phyllis Schaefer, Jorge Leon and Army Maj. Rob Rouse from the command's Strategy, Policy, Programs and Logistics Directorate who participated at the invitation of MSC liaison officer Capt. Craig Galloway. They were among the more than 70 invited guests from several military organizations, including the Office of the Secretary of the Navy, who sailed aboard the Comfort from Norfolk, Va. to Baltimore.

The ship master civilian mariner Capt. Tomas Finger personally welcomed the group, which he congratulated for being part of the Comfort's crew for the last leg of the U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet planned and coordinated mission. The guests spent more than 24 hours aboard ship to observe operations under way.

"Continuing Promise 2009" brought the Comfort to Antigua and Barbuda, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Panama. While MSC's civilian mariners operated the ship and transported patients via small boats, Navy medical personnel worked side-by-side with partners from other U.S. military services, host and partner nations, and non-governmental organizations to staff Comfort's shipboard hospital as well as medical treatment sites on shore.

In all, Continuing Promise delivered medical dental care to more than 100,000 people including more than 1,600 surgeries, completed 13 construction projects ranging from minor renovations of facilities to building new schools, and provided veterinary care to more than 13,000 animals.

The USTRANSCOM crew found the day aboard the Comfort educational and informative. Schaefer said she learned quite a bit about the ship and her mission.

"The USNS Comfort has continuously provided a variety of support from Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm to the recent Operation Continuing Promise," she said. "The medical treatment capability is amazing, with a dozen operating rooms and 1,000 beds."

Leon also noted the "impressive capability and the outstanding humanitarian missions this ship has supported and completed." On a lighter note, Leon joked, "If you really had to get sea-sick, this is the place!"

Rouse's perspective was a bit more practical. "This experience provided a small snapshot of what life at sea could be like, he said. "The heat was extreme at times especially on the main deck as the sun was reflecting off of the water and the vessel. The loud noises throughout the night, pervasive smell of machinery oil, paint and the sea all created an interesting environment to live and work in."

Rouse found navigating the ladders and passageways also had its advantages. "Who needs a stair master after traversing the numerous compartments and decks as the ship rocked back and forth?"

What struck the USTRANSCOM shipmates, too, was the scene as Comfort approached her Baltimore homeport.

For Rouse, the homecoming was impressive. "We were greeted by a Baltimore City Fire boat whose water cannon fountain display reached over 100 feet and reflected colorful rainbows. The pilot guide boat paved the way for the USNS Comfort through the harbor. Three tugs lashed themselves to the Comfort both aft, port and starboard and would eventually provide the power for us into the port."

Schaefer agreed. "My most memorable experience was seeing the warm welcome when coming in port at Baltimore," said Schaeffer. "The fire department boat recognized the USNS Comfort by bursting with water arches in all directions, and the crowd of family and friends (pier-side) cheered their loved ones home."

When not deployed, Comfort is kept in reduced operating status in Baltimore, where a crew of about 18 civil service mariners and 58 Navy medical personnel maintain the ship in a high state of readiness. When activated, Comfort can transition to full operating status in five days.

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