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NEWS | Sept. 6, 2011

NHCC personnel return to Charleston following Operation Continuing Promise 2011

By Naval Health Clinic Charleston Public Affairs

The USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) stopped in Norfolk Va. Sept. 2, to disembark crew members after completing a five-month humanitarian deployment to the U.S. Southern Command Area of Responsibility in support of Continuing Promise 2011. Among the hundreds of Sailors that took part in this mission were seven local Sailors from Naval Health Clinic Charleston.

Continuing Promise is an annual mission that fosters goodwill and demonstrates the United States' commitment and support to Central America, South America and the Caribbean. Continuing Promise offers training for U.S. military personnel and partner nation forces, while providing valuable services to communities in need.

While deployed, the 800 military and civilian crew members completed nine port stops to provide aide to locals and participated in subject matter expert exchanges. Comfort visited Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Peru. While in each port, the crew worked with host nation medical personnel to provide up to 11 days of medical, dental, optometry, engineering, veterinary services and civil-military operations training to each country's citizens.

"Bravo Zulu to the Comfort team and your successful deployment to South America and the Caribbean," said Rear Adm. Alton Stocks, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth commander. "I want to thank you for all the outstanding and very important work you did during the five months you were deployed. As you return back from this deployment, be proud of the way you participated in the humanitarian operations throughout very strategic locations to our national interests."

This is the sixth Continuing Promise mission and the third that Comfort has participated in since they began. On board the ship, hundreds of patient beds and 12 operating rooms were put to good use. In the nine country visits, more than 70,000 patients were triaged throughout the mission and more than 1,000 surgeries were performed.

The high volume of patients in need of treatment made it necessary for the crew to set up temporary medical clinics ashore. The CP 11 team partnered with local health care providers and community officials to provide free medical care to communities with limited access to medical treatment. Each country presented its own challenges in health care due to regional illnesses and conditions. Along with the challenges came opportunities for training.

"I have learned so much on this deployment," said Lt. Anthony Capuano, NHCC Human department head and Personnel Officer while assigned to the Comfort. "I learned a lot about the countries we worked in, their different health care systems, the amount of work and planning that goes into a mission like this and so many different aspects of my job.

"I feel that we made a huge impact, and touched the lives of the many people we were able to treat," he continued. "The amount of people we were able to reach and the amount of health care we provided in just five months is truly amazing."

Infrastructures were helped on this mission as well. Embarked Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 28 and Marines from 8th Engineer Battalion undertook civic engineering operations. They worked hard to repair local schools and medical clinics throughout the communities.

The veterinary team worked to provide immunizations, surgeries, vitamins, and de-worming medications to more than 7,758 animals at more than 90 total sites.

The threat of Hurricane Irene forced Comfort to suspend operations in their last port, Port Au Prince, Haiti. The crew spent two days in Haiti before returning to sea Aug. 21. After the hurricane no longer posed a danger, Comfort returned to Haiti Aug. 24 to complete its operations.

"I would do this again," Capuano said. "I came on board not knowing what to expect. I learned so many new things, and having the knowledge that I have now, I would definitely do this again. When you step back and think about what our mission has done for hundreds and thousands of people, it makes me extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to be a part of something so amazing."