Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) departed Jan. 16 beginning a five to seven day transit to Haiti, where more than 800 military and civilian aid workers aboard the ship will provide relief in response to the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck the Caribbean nation Jan. 12.
President Barrack Obama activated the ship, which houses one of the largest trauma facilities in the U.S., due to its capability to provide a full spectrum of surgical and medical services.
"The Navy is capable with this vessel, with the large decks, with the men and women we have and with the aircraft to do a couple of things," said U.S. Navy Surgeon General Vice Adm. Adam G. Robinson. "Number one, we have the logistical support that is necessary to come and help (overcome) the true catastrophe that is the earthquake in Haiti; number two, is we have the men and women who are trained and have the skill sets who are ready to go into harm's way to help someone else, which is what humanitarian assistance and disaster relief is all about."
American Red Cross reports indicate that 45,000 to 50,000 people died in the initial wave of devastation brought by the earthquake, but many more are injured or at risk of illness, making Comfort a beacon of hope for millions.
"We plan to care for people medically, mentally and spiritually. We plan to bring the whole person concept to help heal the nation of Haiti," said Lt. Janette Arencibia, planning operations medical intelligence officer aboard Comfort. "The person who needs us the most may be physically okay but mentally devastated."
The ship was in reduced operating status with a skeleton crew of 18 civil service mariners and a hospital support staff of 58 military personnel who care for the ship's medical facilities when the call came to deploy to Haiti. While the ship is designed to be activated, fully staffed and ready to sail in five days, crewmembers and embarked personnel from Bethesda, Portsmouth and San Diego medical centers, as well as numerous other commands, completed all deployment preparations in less than 96 hours.
Comfort departed her homeport of Baltimore with approximately 850 Sailors and civilians aboard who have the capability to support 250 patient beds.
"There are hundreds of people helping from San Diego, from Portsmouth and, especially, from Bethesda where we pulled the bulk of the medical staff to get people here," said Capt. Jim Ware, commanding officer of the medical treatment facility on board Comfort. "We are very, very prepared to do this mission."