A mission that will change people’s lives was the general sentiment of military, local, and international leaders as the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort arrived at the Port of Miami on October 23, on its last stateside port of call before setting sails toward Latin America and the Caribbean as part of U.S. Southern Command- (SOUTHCOM) sponsored humanitarian mission Continuing Promise.
“The USNS Comfort’s team will change lives and build relationships that will last long after this ship disembarks,” said U.S. Army General Laura J. Richardson, SOUTHCOM commander. “This multinational, public-private, and multi-service team working on this 1,000-bed hospital ship really demonstrates the power of partnerships. It also demonstrates a profound truth: that health security is national security.”
The USNS Comfort deployment to Latin America marks SOUTHCOM’s 12th humanitarian assistance mission under Continuous Promise (the seventh for the Comfort), with a first stop in Guatemala, followed by Honduras, Colombia, Dominican Republic, and Haiti.
For the next two months under the ship’s motto “United we sail,” humanitarian assistance, readiness building, and goodwill mission will be part of the day-to-day of the 1,000 crew members composed of military and civilian personnel that will work side-by-side with U.S. federal agencies, international partners, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to provide medical assistance to communities based on the needs identified by host-nation health ministries.
Military personnel from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Honduras, and the Royal Netherlands, will join the crew at some point during the mission.
“Central American and Caribbean families still mourn the loss of loved ones from the once in a generation pandemic. Mothers and fathers are struggling to put food on the table and gas in their cars because of the sharp rise in prices, largely due to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine. Transnational criminal organizations are poisoning our people with drugs and stretching their tentacles of violence and corruption across the region. Authoritarian regimes both inside and outside our region are worsening corruption, which directly impacts the livelihoods of everyday citizens,” Gen. Richardson said. “In the midst of this sea of challenges, the USNS Comfort sails as a symbol of the unshakeable bonds between the people of the United States and the people of Latin America and the Caribbean. The ship and its crew will extend an outstretched hand. They give hope. Wherever she goes, she carries with her our enduring promise, and all that it signifies.”
Medical and dental capabilities during this deployment will assist communities with a wide range of health services, including basic medical evaluation and treatment, preventive medicine, dental screenings and treatment, optometry screenings, eyewear distribution, general surgery, ophthalmologic surgery, public health training, and additional specialties as required.
“This is the seventh time the USNS Comfort’s mission goes to our country,” said Colombian Consul General in Miami Edgar Adolfo Monroy Amado. “The presence of the ship is a relationship of cooperation with the United States and Colombia, which helps to provide medical assistance to the most vulnerable populations in Colombia.”
Saving lives since 2007
Since 2007, the USNS Comfort has treated 582,000 patients and conducted over 7,000 surgeries across the region.
For Rafael Gottenger, a cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgeon and member of the Venezuelan American Medical Association (VAMA), an NGO based in Miami that supports Continuing Promise, being part of this humanitarian mission is crucial. “We can give back as doctors,” said Gottenger, a repeat volunteer with the mission. “If I can give a smile back to a child for nothing, maybe just to get the moms to tell you ‘thanks,’ that rewards your soul and yourself as a person.”
“This wonderful ship goes around the world doing wonderful things amid the times that we’re going through in Europe and other parts of the world,” said Alex De La Cruz, founder and CEO of New Century International, an NGO based in Miami and longtime supporter of Continuing Promise. “It’s a beautiful thing to be able to show the world that we as Americans are willing to help other countries in need when it comes to medical missions. The representation of the ship being in different countries, helping, and working hand-to-hand with the local teams to be able to help individuals, it’s a great experience.”
Guatemalan Consul General in Miami Rosa María Mérida Arias De Mora said that the Comfort mission shows “a moment where kindness and human solidarity are present,” as Guatemalans are facing difficult moments not only due to COVID-19 but to tropical storms and economic and social crises.
“We value and appreciate this collaboration, which is a clear example of the solid relationship and friendship between Guatemala and the United States and the culture and the commitments of this great country to collaborate, provide development, wellness, and prosperity to all,” Consul Mérida Arias said. “Most sincere thanks for each of the medical services that will change the lives of thousands of Guatemalans… I wish the greatest success in the mission that you are about to undertake.”