Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) and the Continuing Promise 2011 (CP11) mission team transited the Panama Canal, heading northbound to the final stop of their mission.
Comfort, and her crew of U.S. and partner nation service members and civilian volunteers, spent four and a half months providing humanitarian and civic assistance to the people of Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Nicaragua, and Peru, and will wrap up the final month of their deployment providing care for the residents of earthquake-ravished Haiti.
“Haiti, I believe, is the biggest opportunity to help people due to how the recent earthquake impacted the country, their level of poverty and lack of access to healthcare,” said Lt. Vernon Mackie, an internal medicine resident at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. “I think because they have the most need, it is the biggest opportunity for us to make the most difference.”
Mackie, who joined the CP11 mission in Costa Rica, said that the Panama Canal transit represents the start of the mission’s end, but looks forward to the opportunity to make the last stop the best and most productive of the deployment.
While several personnel embarked aboard Comfort said they are excited to get back home to their families and friends, many crew members look forward to continuing the goodwill mission in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
“My unit back in Canada is a humanitarian operations and disaster relief unit, so experiencing Haiti will be a milestone for us,” said Canadian Army Lieutenant Chad Turnbull, a healthcare administrator from Nova Scotia, Canada. “One of my team members here actually went on the dirt when Haiti happened, so it will be good for her to see what’s happened there in the last year and a half,” Turnbull added. “I look forward to getting through the canal and arriving in Haiti.”
While the crew has a few days to relax and enjoy the Panama Canal transit, they are also mentally preparing to see the status of Haiti, which, for some, will serve as a return visit to the region since earthquake relief efforts nearly two years ago.
“In our last mission stop [Haiti], we will be able to see the progress of what’s been done [since the earthquake in 2010], and how the people are faring through it all,” said 1st Class Kevin Geegan from the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 28 detachment embarked aboard Comfort. “The Seabees’ goal is to provide a great product for the people, and to be of great service to them and improve on their quality of life.”
To date, Continuing Promise personnel triaged 63,805 patients and performed 1,029 surgeries.