Beginning on Monday, I will be blogging from aboard the USNS COMFORT as she steams towards Haiti on the first stop of Continuing Promise ’09 (CP 09). 

For some background on CP 09, see the following Navy press release:

CP09 is an equal partnership mission between the United States and its international partners to provide humanitarian and civic assistance in seven countries located in Latin America and the Caribbean. Comfort will visit Antigua and Barbuda, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Panama.

“The Comfort will serve as a Navy platform through which U.S. military, interagency personnel, partner nations and non-governmental organizations will carry out humanitarian efforts,” said Navy Capt. Robert G. Lineberry, CP09 mission commander. “It’s a great team of people going down to Latin America and the Caribbean to do great things.”

The hospital ship has been configured to provide health services and engineering support through humanitarian assistance and disaster response. Additionally, Comfort leadership explained how the ship will provide the host nations with the services of a fully functional hospital. Originally, the ship was an oil tender converted to a hospital ship meant to serve as a platform for treating war casualties.

I am thankful to Lt. Jennifer Cragg, USN, and Jack Holt from DOD’s New Media Office and LT. Matt Gill, USN, COMFORT PAO, for making this opportunity available to bloggers like myself. 

Check back often for updates! Now I have to go pack and learn how to use my new video camera…




Posted by Jim Dolbow in Soft Power
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  • Byron

    Outstanding! Now if we could only get a blogger aboard a USN warship ;)

  • http://www.militaryairships.blogspot.com campbell

    One of the finest missions Navy conducts! Looking forward to your notes along the way.

  • Bill Vastine

    Great to see Comfort back in Haiti. Performed supreme work here last year. Look forward to daily reports on mission accomplishments. If you all get any free shore time in Petion-ville, check out my friend Axel’s resturant at the Ibo-Le-Le Hotel. Thursday to Saturdays, best fresh made daily sushi in town, great US imported steaks cooked to order, Ribs, etc. great view from top of hill overlooking PAP and port, great food, great people.

    Bill Vastine
    US-expat, Haiti

  • http://springboarder.blogspot.com springbored

    Goooo Jim!

  • http://www.jimdolbow.blogspot.com Jim Dolbow

    Byron, Campbell, Bill, and Springbored, thanks for reading and commenting. I am burning vacation time and my own $$ to make this happen so it will be good blogging I can assure you all. thanks again

  • Jay

    Jim — Hope MSC takes care of you! Interesting article or letter in Proceedings a few months back (I think) about *more* hospital ships. Certainly the requirement for double hulled tankers has made some single hulls available…these smart power missions rock!

  • leesea

    while onboard ask yourself where would the USCG get all the diverse personnel assets to man a hospital ship? Lets see to my knowledge the ship has a CIVMAR crew, the MTF is mostly naval, then there are the Seabees, the MESF, the helo det; not to mention the MSC NFAF support ships which resupply every hospital ship mission,
    Maybe reality will set in?
    The US does NOT need more super large hospital ships. This class has 1000 beds. That size MRF and ship is simply not what is needed for DOD missions or for HA/DR missions. A converted sealift ship (which are available) could perform the missions more effectively.

  • Byron

    One dose of reality coming up: At what cost would it take to convert a sealift ship (which is a container ship or Ro-Ro) to perform the diverse needs of a huminitarian mission? Please factor in such items as hotel services for 250 crew (barebones minimum, my guess 400), patients, the esoteric needs of the medical branch such as large amounts of potable water, pure oxygen, and a bunch of electricity to hand all the services. Add in the helo det, the security det, and civil affairs det. Don’t forget to factor in that the cost of the existing hospital ship would by now be fully amortized. Now which is cheaper?

  • http://springboarder.blogspot.com springbored

    If we’re looking for cost-effectiveness…How about…drive Army field hospital into Ro-Ro, get to port-in-need, drive off Ro-Ro, set up pierside, then fly everybody else in and bus them all to the hospital site.

    Now what’s cheaper?

  • http://xbradtc.wordpress.com XBradTC

    Does the Navy have so much money they can afford to buy purpose built hospital ships for a soft power mission? I think not.

    Remember, Comfort and Mercy were built not as soft power assets, but rather as support for “big war” contingency operations.

    I hadn’t thought of Springbored’s solution, but it sure seems like a good one to me. The only drawback is it sounds like Army units get to do the humanitarian stuff, and the Navy doesn’t get to reap the PR benefits.

  • http://blog@usni.org patricia

    glad to see the same arguments are still going on, I was on the initial ds/ds lmission. It is a msc ship. The Navy are cargo, waluable cargo, but cargo nevertheless. It is a great ship, and one that was/is needed and it still can do a lot of good.

  • http://www.jimdolbow.blogspot.com Jim Dolbow

    Leesea, I still stand by every word I co-wrote in support of the U.S. Coast Guard operating hospital ships. My co-writer and I have the silent majority on our side on this issue since no political appointee or flag officer in either service has written or spoken out against our idea.

  • Byron

    I’ll repeat my last: you need one hell of a lot of power generation to support all the hospital services these missions will require, much more than palletized units can provide without using a long logistics tail. The ship itself provides those “hotel services” including the fuel, air and water. It is also big enough to provide the cargo capacity to support the off-ship humanitarian operations. You would spend far more funds trying to do it without the Mercy than you would if you simply sent the ship to whatever location you picked for humanitarian ops.

    And Brad, the Navy doesn’t need to buy a purpose built ship, it already bought it. Sunk costs and all that.

  • http://warandhealth.com Chris Albon

    Good luck Jim!

    I demand ample video!

  • Fouled Anchor

    Springboard’s solution isn’t without merit, but it’s not a replacement to missions like the COMFORT does so well. It could easily be part of a multi-pronged humanitarian effort.

    Considering that the COMFORT will be conducting ops approaching hurricane season, the logistics of getting one ship to a location-in-need, without having to worry about a nearby available airport (read: not hurricane damaged) and passable roads, make hospital ships less logistically dependent. Further considering that ports in the location-in-need could be out of commission, the hospital ships with helo provide stand-off capability without loss of function.

  • http://www.jimdolbow.blogspot.com Jim Dolbow

    Chris,

    Thanks! I just bought a video camera for that very purpose! Blogging is getting to be expensive. any requests?

  • http://xbradtc.wordpress.com XBradTC

    Bryon, I wasn’t knocking the Comfort and Mercy. I was thinking more in terms of the follow on vessels. Comfort and Mercy won’t be in the fleet forever. Perhaps I was misreading, but it seemed some were arguing that the fleet needs a newbuild/conversion specifically for the soft power mission. I would disagree with that. While the existing hospital ships are hardly optimized for that (lack of ship to shore transportation via landing craft) they have proven remarkably adaptable. Inherent in every ship design is a good deal of flexibilty.

    I’m just saying that if we don’t have the money to build a ship for just the soft power mission. I’d like to hear some options for packaging humanitarian missions on a JHSV for either goodwill tours or Global Fleet Stations.

  • http://xbradtc.wordpress.com XBradTC

    Jim, I think I’d rather let the Coasties focus on doing their current job, rather than adding one more mission that surely won’t be properly funded. They have enough on their plate as it is.

  • Byron

    Ok, Brad. My suggestion then would be to keep the Comfort and Mercy up and running till the bottom falls slap off of them. Keeps people like me working, saves the cost of a new build, everyone wins ;)

  • leesea

    Byron I have already devleloped a concept and cost estimate of $35 to 50 mil for re-conversion of USNS El Paso T-LKA to multi-mission support ship. And BTW sealift ship types are far more numerous than just container and Ro/Ro ships.

    Springbored get real! Many of the ports and areas do NOT have faciliies for offload such cargo. You know the “too big” problem. That is why more helos and boats are needed on the next-gen hospital ships. P.S. the USN already has containerizes hospitals in several sizes from Fleet Hospital to smaller unit sets. Look it up.

  • Sarah

    My husband is one of the Air Force bandsmen on board Comfort. I’ll be reading your blogs with interest!

  • Spade

    leesea,

    well, instead of using a ro/ro, why not convert an amphib down the line when it becomes obsolete? Or one of our aging ones.

    Example: Wasp is supposed to be able to have a 600 bed capacity and was designed with the idea of moving casualties. You’ve got a well deck to move assets ashore and set up a field hospital like springboard brought up, you’ve got the capability of having a bunch of helicopters to move them around if needed, and additional capability to do more extensive medical care back at the ship (remove areas dedicated to combat systems, replace with medical stuff).

    I dunno, I’m just thinking ‘out loud’.

  • Jay

    Pls keep in mind – the “xxx bed capacity” isn’t always what think it is. That counts standard beds (“racks”) in troop berthing areas. NOT exactly conducive to patient care (especially ingress/egress to the space).

    Sometimes the bottom tier and top tier are counted (top sometimes being the 4th level — really too high for any effective care).

    Of course, anything can be used in an emergency, but don’t think when you say “capacity” that it is the same as a normal hospital capacity. Also — oxygen generation, stow and availabilty to get it to those who need it is a very big deal.

  • leesea

    spade the USNS El Paso is a former amphib as in LKA.

    jay there is very little correlation between troop berthing and several levels of patient berthing. I included the whole ranges of patient care, support services and off-ship MEDCAPs into consideration when I developed the T-MMS concept.
    Indeed older amphibs could be converted to support soft power missions. Conversion of civilian ship designs is historically less expensive. Sealift ships when specifically modified could perform soft power missions such as DA/HR, and presumably since they cost less they could be forward deployed in more location with less local resistence? One of the problems with the big hospital ships is they take weeks to get to some of the intended area of operations.

  • Jamie

    I am very happy to see this blog site as my daughter is on this mission with the US Army!

  • Sarah Carson

    I am happy to see this blog. But I am unhappy to see all of the comments that speak of the the USNS as a Coast guard ship manned by the “coasties”. This is not true. The USNS Comfort is indeed a MSC ship, but the Military Treatment Facility (hospital) is a US NAVY Command staffed predominantly by US NAVY personnel. The Reduced operating staff of the MTF are ALL NAVY, NO COAST GUARD STAFF!!! For these missions, additional staff come on board made up mainly of US NAVY personnel, with active and reserve Air Force, Air National Guard, Army, Coast Guard and civilian personnel. It is truly a team effort and the crew is one team, but they are not a COASTIE TEAM.

  • http://www.jimdolbow.blogspot.com Jim Dolbow

    Sarah,

    Regarding the Coast Guard, the comments about this post of mine were aimed about the following article I co-wrote

    http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/ARCHIVE/2008/NOVEMBER/Pages/ToWinHeartsandMinds,GiveCoastGuardNewHospitalShips.aspx

    and not the present manning of COMFORT. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Judy

    My son is a Corpsman on this mission. What a great opportunity! I look forward to reading more….

  • Bernie

    My wife is an HM2 on the mission. Glad to see another blog from on board. The mission blog is at http://comfort2009.blogspot.com.

    According to that blog, with over 900 personnel on board, over 2/3 are Navy. There are 60+ MSC Civilian Mariners. Interestingly, with all the discussion about USCG, there are only 4 on board.

    Jim, thanks for the blog. Best wishes for a successful mission.

  • leesea

    I believe the USCG medical needs are supported by the US Public Health Service whose personnell have been on hospital ship missions in the past.

    The key thing to remember about the Comfort’s Medical Treatment Facility is that its sailors are augmented by MANY diferent services and NGOs. Thus making this missions much more affordable and doable as medical diplomacy.

  • celia turner

    Jim,
    I will be joining you June 1st in Panama. I am looking forward to treating patients and aiding this admirable effort.

  • Dale Washburn

    Why dpoes it take so long to get the Comfort underway?

  • Tim Logan

    God speed. Your efforts, and that of the world emergency responders, renew our faith in humanity.

  • Apryl

    I am also interested in reading the comments. My daughter is a nurse out of Bethesda. This is her first deployment.
    Good luck everyone!

  • Christina D

    I read that the USNS Comfort (T-AH-20), which is now anchored on the coast of Haiti, will only be treating people with valid US passports and not the wounded citizens of Haiti. Is this true?

  • Joan Krohn

    Is it to my understanding many non military qualified nurses not going to serve aboard from National Nurses United? Or maybe later?

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