USNS Comfort Arrives in Belize

Monday, June 25, 2007
By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brandon Shelander, USNS Comfort Public Affairs

The Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) arrived in Belize on June 20, its first scheduled stop as part of the Partnership for the Americas mission to conduct training and humanitarian assistance operations. Comfort’s joint forces crew -- which includes personnel from Military Sealift Command, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army, Canadian Forces and Project Hope -- will work at various sites in Belize and provide medical treatment to Belizean citizens, as well as repair medical equipment and restore existing medical facilities. U.S. Navy Seabee Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 202, based in Norfolk, will also perform construction work on two schools while in Belize.

“We’re looking forward to serving the people of Belize. It’s such a beautiful country, and we really want to show the citizens that we care our about our Southern neighbors,” said Capt. Bob Kapcio, Comfort mission commander. “We’re going to do what we can to help those who need our medical care and skill sets.” Civilian and military medical personnel will work from onshore sites provided by the government of Belize to provide medical care such as adult medicine, pediatrics, optometry, dermatology, preventative medicine and dental care to Belizeans.

“Not only are we able to provide medical care, we also have several non-governmental organizations that will be providing medical and dental services,” said Kapcio. “For example, we have Project HOPE aboard. The Pan-American Health Organization is also supporting this mission.” In addition to providing staff for medical care ashore in Belize, Project HOPE is also augmenting Comfort’s medical team for the deployment. “We have a number of volunteers who will break up into two groups,” said Robert Leitch, Project HOPE medical director for the Comfort mission. “One team is a surgical team, which will then work in surgery in partnership with the Navy on the ship, and a primary health care team to provide treatment.”

Project Handclasp is a Navy program that collects and distributes medical supplies and also items for community projects such as the repair of schools and orphanages. The program provided Comfort with requested medical supplies prior to its departure, which will be delivered to the Belize Ministry of Health for distribution. Comfort is also scheduled to visit Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. Comfort’s crew of about 800 includes a staff of approximately 500 medical personnel whose specialties include general surgery, orthopedics, plastic surgery, pediatric surgery, oral surgery, ear nose and throat, and obstetrics gynecology. The medical team is trained and equipped to provide health care services, ranging from basic tooth extractions and wellness education to surgical repair of cleft pallets and tumor removal.

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