US Navy hospital ship returns from South America deployment

USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) pierside at Naval Station Norfolk after completing its eleven-week medical support mission to South and Central America. Photo: US Navy

The US Navy’s 272-meter long hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) returned to Naval Station Norfolk on December 18, completing over two months of medical support operations in South and Central America as part of Enduring Promise.

The Enduring Promise initiative is a US Southern Command project to provide medical assistance in the region.

“The men and women on USNS Comfort, representing the best of the United States Navy and our nation, treated over 26,000 patients and conducted approximately 600 surgeries aboard the ship and at land-based sites,” said Rear Adm. Sean Buck, Commander, US Naval Forces Southern Command.

“Their work made a big difference in Central and South America in ways both concrete and intangible for years to come.”

Comfort’s embarked medical team worked with health and government partners in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Honduras, providing care both aboard the ship and at land-based medical sites, helping to relieve pressure on national medical systems caused partially by an increase in cross-border migrants. The deployment reflected the United States’ enduring promise of friendship, partnership and solidarity with the Americas.

The ship’s crew included more than 465 US and partner nation military doctors, nurses and corpsmen. In addition, about 90 medical and dental professional volunteers from non-governmental organizations were aboard to support the medical assistance mission.

The mission was supported by a team of approximately 70 of Military Sealift Command’s civil service mariners who oversaw the ship’s operation and navigation. During the mission, USNS Comfort visited Esmeraldas, Ecuador; Paita, Peru; Turbo, Colombia; Riohacha, Colombia; and Trujillo, Honduras.

Health services provided during USNS Comfort’s deployment included general surgery, ophthalmologic surgery, dermatology, medical evaluation and treatment, preventive medicine, dental screenings and treatment, optometry screenings, eyewear distribution, and general public health. Medical capabilities aboard the hospital ship include surgical and post-surgical rooms, a CAT-scan unit, four X-ray machines, a dental suite, an optometry lab, a physical therapy area, two oxygen-producing plants and a 5,000-unit blood bank.

During the port visits, Comfort’s medical team conducted a variety of surgeries including cataracts, hernias, cleft palates and more. Additionally, Comfort hosted approximately 1,000 distinguished visitors and guests during 53 distinguished visitor and media days to include the President of Honduras and Prime Minister of Peru.

“To the Enduring Promise Team and the USNS Comfort, congratulations and thank you for demonstrating America’s enduring concern for our neighbors to the south,” said US Secretary of Defense James Mattis in a message to USNS Comfort’s crew. “As you return home, you carry the thanks and respect of those you treated in Ecuador, Peru, Columbia and Honduras. In a world awash in change with displaced populations, fragmented relationships and great power competition, your deployment delivered a sense of concern and humanity amidst chaos.”

This mission marked the sixth time the hospital ship has provided medical assistance in the region. Since first deploying to the region on a similar mission more than a decade ago, the hospital ship has visited 18 nations in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. During those missions, military medical professionals worked with host nation and civilian partners to provide medical treatment to nearly 390,000 people, including more than 6,000 surgeries.

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