Christopher Munsey wrote in the 9 August 2004 edition of Navy Times an article entitled, “Navy medicine moves closer to combat zone: Hospital ships likely to retire, surgical teams head ashore in new plan to treat wounded.”
According to Munsey:
The Navy’s retiring top doc says combat medicine is better done on the battlefield than on a ship at sea.
As a result, hospital ships like Comfort and Mercy soon will be retired. And the recent trend toward smaller, more flexible and more mobile hospitals on land will continue.
Vice Adm. Michael L. Cowan, the Navy surgeon general and chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, said the most visible symbols of Navy medicine, the hospital ships Comfort and Mercy, likely will be retired in the coming years.
“They’re wonderful ships, but they’re dinosaurs,” he said.
Crewed by Military Sealift Command civilian mariners, Comfort deployed for what became Operation Iraqi Freedom in January 2003.
About 1,200 medical and support personnel from National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, Md., and other East Coast clinics staffed the Comfort’s 1,000-bed hospital last year. The ship’s hospital treated coalition wounded, prisoners of war and Iraqi civilians…
… “They were designed in the ’70s, built in the ’80s, and frankly, they’re obsolete,” Cowan said.
As an alternative to Comfort and Mercy, options are still being studied to include trauma treatment spaces aboard the Navy’s next generation of amphibious ships, he said.
The eventual move away from big hospital ships at sea is mirrored by a trend toward smaller, more flexible and more mobile hospitals on land, Cowan said.
Thank God the COMFORT and MERCY survived the cutbacks and were not prematurely retired.
The absurdity of them being labeled obsolete was dispelled less than 5 months later when the USNS MERCY was activated in response to the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami of 26 December 2004.
Moreover, according to the commanding officer of the USNS MERCY’s Medical Treatment Facility, “When the Indonesian military leader in Banda Aceh thanked Mercy there were “tears in his eyes,” proving that a “hospital ship can be the best diplomat of the 21st century.” (p. 96 of Waves of Hope: The U.S. Navy’s Response to the Tsunami in Northern Indonesia h/t Information Dissemination
Fast Forward to Haiti today. Could the Port-au-Prince airport have handled all the additonal flights needed to ferry the medical capability, personnel, and supplies etc brought to the relief mission by COMFORT? I doubt it.