Kathryn Wheelbarger, acting assistant secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs of the U.S. Department of Defense, visited U.S. Navy Hospital Ship USNS Comfort and was a guest speaker at the closing ceremony in Jamaica following the completion of the ship’s 11th medical mission in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, November 1.
“I want to highlight some of the senior leaders in the [U.S.] Department of Defense perspective and the reasons on how important Jamaica is to our security interests,” said Wheelbarger. “It’s very important for us to be here today to not only celebrate and honor the great mission that the Comfort has done in the last few days but also to again acknowledge and represent the strength and partnership between the U.S. and Jamaica.”
During the Comfort’s six-day mission in Kingston, 800 medical professionals of the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Army, and Public Health Service alongside five partner nations, provided care for 6,511 patients at two separate shore-based medical sites, and performed 100 surgeries aboard the ship.
“The medical mission represents one of the largest and most sophisticated medical missions to come to Jamaica,” said Dr. Nicole Dawkins-Wright, director of emergency disaster management and special services at the Jamaican Ministry of Health. “Many Jamaicans who were able to have surgical procedures completed are happier and in a better position because of this mission.”
The Comfort’s mission is accomplished through the efforts of medical and non-medical personnel. The entire Comfort team is comprised of military and civilian personnel from the United States and partner nations, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and Peru, as well as several nongovernmental organizations creating a dynamic team capable of delivering a variety of services.
“We discussed the whole process about what was going to take place during the procedure and the risks that were involved, so that way I could understand everything,” said Steve McKrieth, who came to Comfort for surgical repair of torn ligaments and a broken foot. “I almost feel like I want to join the U.S. Navy and be a doctor myself! Everyone is so jovial and friendly and smiling. I feel like [Comfort] has saved the day.”
This marks the Comfort’s third visit to Jamaica and the seventh to the region since 2007. At each of the missions, the embarked medical teams provided care aboard the Comfort and at land-based medical sites, helping to relieve pressure on national medical systems, including those strained by an increase in cross-border migrants.