Archive for the 'CP 09' Tag

Some pictures of the USAF South Band playing to audiences in St. John’s Antigua. They are great practitioners of music diplomacy. I look forward to seeing them perform again in the near future.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Soft Power | 1 Comment
BZ to the Dutch Onboard USNS COMFORT

The first team of Dutch personnel pictured above departed COMFORT on 14 May.

The Netherlands is one of the many partner nations of Continuing Promise ’09 and have committed to have a team of medical personnel onboard USNS COMFORT for the entire duration of the 4-month, 7-nation humanitarian deployment to the Caribbean and Latin America. They plan on doing so by dispatching 3 teams of personnel that will serve onboard COMFORT for approximately 6-7 weeks at a time.

According to CDR. Tom Donahue, MC, USN and COMFORT’s Director of Surgery, the Dutch handled “more cases as a group than any other service. They thought us a lot. I know we learned alot.”

They were onboard COMFORT for the first three stops of CP 09 which were Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Antigua & Barbuda. During this time, they performed approximately 23% of all the surgeries onboard COMFORT. Moreover, they worked so well together as a team that everyone thought they had all worked together for years in the Netherlands. In reality, they had all first met as a group at the airport. 

BZ to the Netherlands for sending such a fine team to USNS COMFORT!

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Soft Power | 8 Comments

In addition to all of the medical personnel onboard USNS Comfort, there are 21 Seabees from Construction Batallion Maintenance Unit 202 (CBMU 202) out of Washington, DC and Little Creek, VA.

During the course of my visit to USNS COMFORT in Antigua & Barbuda, I was able to spend the morning with them at a local hospital where they were renovating the women’s barracks. On the day I visited them, it was their next to last day at the work site.

The Seabees gutted the interior of the building down to the studs and installed new doors, windows, flooring, electrical system, and light fixtures. On the exterior, they painted the entire building, installed new gutters, and dug up and replaced 130 feet of gray water lines. About the only thing left intact on the structure was the roof – everything else was renovated by CBMU 202.

The whole project was estimated to have cost $250,000. Besides providing the Seabees with some great rate training on the island of 365 beaches (which they hardly ever saw), the U.S. Navy joined forces with Rotary International and Antigua & Barbuda’s Public Works Department on this project. The local Rotary contributed more than $60,000 for this project which went towards the flooring and new bathroom and showers. Antigua & Barbuda’s Public Works Department was on hand to receive some invaluable training from our Seabees in addition to follow-on projects after the Seabees have departed Antigua & Barbuda.

Here are some pics of them at work on a women’s barracks at a local hospital in St. John’s, Antigua.

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Just one of the many boxes of eye glasses that were donated by the Lions Club for Continuing Promise '09.

Just one of the many boxes of eye glasses that were donated by the Lions Club for Continuing Promise

If you are like me, you have probably wondered what happens to the old eye glasses that people donate to charity. Well, wonder no more. I am here to tell you that your donated eye glasses are being put to good use.

In just another success story I observed while embarked last week onboard USNS COMFORT, the Navy has partnered with Lions Clubs International to provide free eyeglasses to deserving patients from the host nations of Continuing Promise ’09. To date over 7,000 pairs of eye glasses have been distributed by the USNS COMFORT during CP 09 including 3,000+ pairs in Antigua & Barbuda alone.

According to one of the COMFORT’s eye doctors, Captain Michael Pattison, MSC, USN, eye glasses range between $400-1000 on Antigua & Barbuda thus making them prohibitively expensive for the average citizen. I asked CAPT Pattison about the partnership between the Navy and the Lions Club and he remarked, “Great. They help us a lot.”

So stop what you are doing and start rounding up your old eye glasses so you can help give the gift of sight. For more information on how to donate your old pair of eye glasses, go to

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From reader Kent Bertsch – a must read.

I just want to say thank you to all the service men and women that serve on the USNS Comfort. We were in Antigua on a cruise ship last week on May 14th when we sailed right by the Comfort going into dock. We didn’t know until we talked with some of the crew on shore what they were doing there. We saw the hundreds of people standing in line in the hot sun waiting for medical treatment. Here we were there soley for OUR comfort and our military were there sacrificing thier time helping others. It was very humbling to say the least to watch them and to hear them talk of their mission. We witnessed a very touching act of kindness by one of our nurses. We were in a coffee shop on the dock where some of the military people gathered to have coffee and wait for a boat to take them back to the ship when one of the nurses noticed an elderly woman sitting outside in obvious pain with sores all over her legs. She put her lunch down and went over to put her arm around her and asked if she could help her. I don’t know how long she was there because we had to leave but the kindness and generosity this nurse showed to this woman was absolutely amazing. To those who do not think we should be doing this they should be ashamed of themselves. We are the richest nation on earth and it is the least we could do to help others who are not as blessed and fortunate as us. I just thought this needed to be said. People need to know what good our military is doing. Thank you again to all who serve on the USNS Comfort! (emphasis added)

Well said shipmate! Thanks for sharing!

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Soft Power | 1 Comment
MSGT T.C. Cottrell plays a great guitar during an audience in St. John's, Antigua.

MSGT T.C. Cottrell, USAF, plays a great guitar before an audience in St. John's, Antigua.

Besides bringing medical diplomacy to the Caribbean & Latin America, the USNS COMFORT is delivering some outstanding music diplomacy as an added bonus. Wondering what music diplomacy is? Wonder no more. Music diplomacy is one of the many cousins of cultural diplomacy and is best summed up The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy:

It is difficult to overstate the value of music in bringing people from different cultural backgrounds together for a common cause. Music has an almost limitless potential to unite both musicians and listeners regardless of their age, cultural background, language spoken, or skin colour.

I agree and I think it was a brilliant move to have musicians onboard USNS COMFORT for Continuing Promise ’09.

The task of uniting musicians and host-nation listeners alike on this 4-month humanitarian and goodwill mission fell to the 17 members of the USAF SOUTH Band under the command of Captain Cristina Moore-Urrutia, USAF, who also serves as the band’s conductor.

In a USNI Blog exclusive, Captain Moore-Urrutia said, “I think it has been an awesome experience. It is the first time an Air Force band has been onboard for one of these missions. I think the band has been just the right fit – a versatile group that can play from rag time to jazz to rock& roll to the latest Latin charts and some standard marches to boot.”

One of their most memorable performances to date was at a women’s prison inthe Dominican Republic. According to Moore-Urrutia, the audience was “incredibly receptive and obviously enjoyed the music very much. It was wonderful to see them respond to the music.”

For each stop on the 7-nation tour, the USAF SOUTH bands plays before a wide range of audiences on any given day. On the day that I caught up with them, they were playing outside the Multi-Cultural Center in St. John’s Antigua & Barbuda. While hundreds of patients were waiting in line, the band performed a concert which helped make the wait that much better. The talent in the band is impressive is all i can say – American Idol better watch out for the likes of TSGT Keisha Gwin-Goodin, USAF Band vocalist who you will hear from on this blog in future posts.

My gut instinct tells me that this is not the last time you will see and hear an USAF band on a navy ship! Gut instinct don’t fail me now.

BZ to the USAF SOUTH Band for vindicating time and time again Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s maxim that “music is the universal language of mankind.”

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Soft Power | 22 Comments

I would like for you to meet just a few of the volunteers onboard COMFORT:

Six year old Desmalin with Project HOPE volunteer Kelly Magee.

Six year old Desmalin with Project HOPE volunteer Kelly Magee.

Dr. Tom DeCaro of University of California at San Diego's Pre-Dental Society. DeCaro is a retired 0-6 in the U.S. Public Health Service.

Dr. Tom DeCaro of University of California at San Diego’s Pre-Dental Society. DeCaro is a retired 0-6 in the U.S. Public Health Service.
Mindy Daines of the Latter Day Saints with just "some of her friends."

Mindy Daines of the Latter Day Saints with some of her friends.

I am convinved there there is a greater percentage of angels onboard COMFORT per capita than anywhere else on the globe.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Soft Power | 14 Comments
0500: Call Away. Best be up and getting ready to check in at the Casualty Reception Area.
0545: Medical staff, Seabees, and NGO volunteers depart COMFORT via a slow,moving water taxi. Many use this hour-long transit to catch some extra zzzz’s.
0645: Arrive at the boat landing zone. Disembark the water taxi. Medical staff and volunteers board buses to the St. John’s Multicultural Center. Seabees depart for their construction site at the local hospital.
0655-0700: Medical staff and volunteers arrive at the Multicultural Center and are greeted by a crowd of local citizens numbering over a 1,000 – some of whom have been in line since 2100 the night before.
0730: Doors open for business at the Multicultural Center. Patients are examined. People have their choice of dental, optometry, general health, physical therapy, pediatrics, and women’s health. Optometry and dental are two of the more popular kids on the block.
Lunch: MRE’s at your convenience.
1300: patients scheduled to have surgery the following day arrive onboard COMFORT. They check-in just as you or I would at a local hospital.
While folks are busy at the multi-cultural center, the COMFORT’s 5-operating rooms are kept busy mainly with procedures like hernias, hysterectomies, cataracts, and cleft palate surgeries to name a few procedures and the Seabees are busy renovating the women’s barracks. There is easily !000+ patient encounters this day. The CP 09 record is 1,678 patient encounters which occurred on Mother’s Day.
@1700: staff and volunteers head back to the boat landing zone to be ferried back to the COMFORT for evening chow (which was pretty good as far as /i was concerned).
Evenings: Meetings to review the day’s events and plan for the next day.
2155: Evening prayer
2200: Lights Out
2200: last boat departs the boat landing zone for the COMFORT. Makes for a long day for the BLZ team which ensures that everyone who had gone ashore that day makes it back onboard COMFORT. They have not left anyone behind as of yet.
While the days might be long, the gratitude of the patients makes it all worthwhile and easy to get up early the next day to do it all over again.

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Regarding priorities and scarce resources, I thought the following email i just received from someone I met in Antigua who also happens to be quite knowledgeable about world politics and military history might be of interest:

Here’s why our tax dollars have been well spent. Most Americans are unaware of the growing influence in the region of Cuba (provides hundreds of doctors and civil engineers in the Caribbean and Latin America), Venezuela (subsidizes oil prices to regional governments and underwrites Cuba’s initiatives), and China (has important relationships with many Western Hemisphere governments – who happen to vote in the UN). Maybe you drove past the Viv Richards Cricket Stadium in Antigua? Built by the Chinese. If (perhaps when?) the Chinese navy were able to project a global presence, their ships would be welcomed in St. John’s Harbor today.

The visit of the USNS Comfort has given a tremendous boost to US relations and furthers US interests, not to mention the intrinsic benefit to the recipients of the medical care. Of course, you experienced this first hand.

Well said my new friend! Multiply this by six other nations in CP 09 and we will start to see some big dividends in the region.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Soft Power | 3 Comments
Some of TEAM COMFORT's partners with the Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda, the Hon. Spencer Baldwin.

Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda Baldwin Spencer with just a few of TEAM COMFORT's inter-agency, international, and NGO partners.

After closely following the previous deployments of USNS COMFORT and USNS Mercy as well as what I saw with my own eyes last week while onboard COMFORT, I have compiled a partial list of the intangible benefits that humanitarian missions like CP ’09 provide for both our Navy and Nation:

Enhanced inter-agency cooperation across the entire U.S. Government (DOD, DHS, HHS, DOS, etc);

Strengthened Mil-to-Mil relationships with the countries visited during the COMFORT’s deployment as well as with the international medical personnel onboard COMFORT;

Increased U.S. military and NGO coordination which is typically not as seamless elsewhere around the globe as it is onboard COMFORT;

countless opportunities to conduct medical diplomacy which is “the winning of hearts and minds of people in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and elsewhere by exporting medical care, expertise, and personnel to help those who need it most;”

and invaluable training for the medical personnel who will treat patients with conditions that are practically non-existent in the United States.

Again, just a partial list. The list could go on and on especially about the human interest stories like the grandmother who had been blinded by cataracts and saw her grandson for the first time onboard COMFORT. Priceless.


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