UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


T-AH 20 Comfort

The hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) departed New York City 30 April 2020, after supporting the Department of Defense’s COVID-19 response efforts to New York and New Jersey residents during the coronavirus outbreak.

USNS Comfort has been at Pier 90 in New York City for a month, providing relief to a healthcare system stressed by the surge of COVID-19 patients. Even as USNS Comfort departs NYC, the ship and its embarked medical task force remain prepared for future tasking. The Navy, along with other U.S. Northern Command-dedicated forces, remains engaged throughout the nation in support of the broader COVID-19 response.

“USNS Comfort arrived in New York City to provide relief to frontline healthcare providers, and each patient who was brought aboard ensured one more bed was available in a local hospital,” said Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander of U.S. 2nd Fleet and Maritime Component Element-East. “While the ship is departing New York City, make no mistake, the fight is not over, and we stand ready to support the response to COVID-19 in whatever capacity we are needed.”

Comfort, which arrived in New York City March 30, was originally tasked with providing care to non-COVID patients, bringing the first aboard on April 1. It quickly became apparent that in order to be of help to the city, Comfort needed to treat all patients, regardless of their COVID status. April 6, after being directed to accept COVID-positive patients and following a thorough assessment of the existing design of the ship, Military Sealift Command civil service mariners physically separated the hospital from the rest of the ship by cordoning off doors and ladder wells on the main deck; reconfiguring the ship to admit and treat all patients.

The US Navy hospital ship Comfort deployed in June 2019 to the Western Hemisphere to provide support for regional countries in response of the crisis in Venezuel. “During a five-month humanitarian mission, US military and medical personnel will work alongside partners to provide medical assistance to communities based on needs identified by host-nation health ministries, and help relieve pressure on host nation medical systems in countries hosting Venezuelans who have fled the country's crisis”, a, US Southern Command (SOCOM) said in a statement on 07 May 2019. SOCOM did not specify which countries the Comfort would visit but said details would be announced at a later time. However, SOCOM did say the hospital ship would be deployed to the Caribbean, Central America and South America to conduct humanitarian medical assistance missions. "Comfort represents our enduring promise to our partners in the Western Hemisphere — our shared neighborhood", SOCOM commander Navy Admiral Craig Faller said in the statement.

The Navy announced 14 February 2013 the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) would shift its layberth from Baltimore, Md., to Naval Station (NS) Norfolk. Comfort's current layberth contract in Baltimore ran through May 2013, if all options are exercised. The Navy planned to execute the layberth shift on or about March 1, 2013. A number of factors contributed to the decision to shift the Military Sealift Command vessel to Norfolk, including an estimated annual savings of $1.7 million in the initial year and $2.1 million for following years; improved access to military facilities for the 59 permanent military members assigned to the ship; better use of the naval logistics hub and industrial base in Norfolk and a reduction in transit time to typical mission areas. The move of Comfort from a commercial layberth in Baltimore to a government pier at NS Norfolk Pier 1 maximizes use of existing infrastructure and facilities, provides cost savings and operational advantages that enhance Comfort's mission capability, and does not negatively impact medical staffing flexibility.

The primary mission of the Medical Treatment Facility (MEDTRE FAC) in USNS Comfort is to provide a mobile, flexible, and rapidly responsive afloat medical capability for acute medical and surgical care in support of amphibious task forces, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force elements, forward deployed Navy elements of the fleet and fleet activities located in areas where hostilities may be imminent.

Operations are governed by the principles of the "Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Wounded, Sick, and Shipwrecked Members of the Armed Forces at Sea" of August 12 1949.

As a secondary mission, MEDTRA FAC COMFORT is capable of providing a full hospital service asset for use by other government agencies involved in the support of relief and humanitarian operations worldwide.

These mission statements are accountable to both the Reduced Operating Status (ROS) and Full Operating Status (FOS) military personnel staffed at National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda MD. until the ship is activated. However, the ROS personnel's immediate and number one priority is to fully activate the ship to a FOS Echelon III Medical Treatment Facility within the prescribed 5-day time frame. In meeting these missions, the ROS personnel perform the following functions:

  • Serve as the nucleus of the critical core required to execute activations;
  • Develop, test, and maintain systems and procedures to support activation process;
  • Orient and train FOS augmenting staff; and
  • Monitor/assess the medical treatment facility's overall ability to fully activate/perform mission.

If activation is not successful, it will delay and detract from Comfort's ability to fulfill the above mission statements.

The following major departments and facilities are provided on USNS Comfort when activated:

  • Casualty reception
  • Radiological services
  • Main laboratory plus satellite lab
  • Central sterile receiving
  • Medical supply/pharmacy
  • Physical therapy and burn care
  • Dental services
  • Optometry/lens lab
  • Morgue
  • Laundry
  • Oxygen producing plants (two)

USNS Comfort is the second Mercy Class hospital ship to join the fleet. She was delivered to the Navy on Dec. 1, 1987, and assigned to the Military Sealift Command to operate. The National Steel and Shipbuilding Company, San Diego, designed and converted the San Clemente class tanker for service as a hospital ship. Christened USNS Comfort (TAH-20) on 15 August 1987, she was deployed to Baltimore for lay berthing on 17 June 1988. Technical control of the Medical Treatment Facility is exercised by the Chief, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. Comfort is crewed by civilian mariners, and her embarked Medical Treatment Facility is staffed by Navy military personnel.

Comfort is the third ship to bear the name. Previous Comforts (AH-3 & AH-6) distinguished themselves in service during the world wars. AH-6 operated throughout World War II with a Navy crew and Army medical personnel and was awarded two battle stars.

On Aug. 9, 1990, Comfort received the call to activate to Full Operating Status in support of Operation Desert Shield. Civilian mariners from throughout the Military Sealift Command, and military personnel from naval hospitals, clinics, and other ashore and afloat commands were acti­vated as crew members. In all, more than 30 commands were eventually represented. On Aug. 11, 1990, Comfort departed Baltimore and em­barked on what was to be an eight-month deployment. With brief stopovers in Norfolk, Va., and Rota, Spain, the ship arrived on station in the Persian Gulf on Sept. 8, 1990. During Operation Desert Shield, Comfort operated in the Arabian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, rotating with MSC's other hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19). During Operation Desert Storm, Comfort was positioned in close proximity to Kuwait, just off the coast of Saudi Arabia near Khafji. On March 12, 1991, Comfort was under way on her return trip home. She arrived in Baltimore on April 15, 1991.

While deployed, Comfort traveled more than 35,000 miles and con­sumed almost three million gallons of fuel. More than 8,000 outpatients were seen, and 700 inpatients were admitted including four sailors injured in a high-pressure steam leak on the USS Iwo Jima. Three hundred thirty-seven surgical procedures were performed. Other notable benchmarks include: more than 2,100 safe helicopter evolutions; 7,000 prescriptions filled; 17,000 laboratory tests completed; 1,600 eyeglasses made; 800,000 meals served and 1,340 radiographic studies, including 141 CT scans.

Under a deployment order issued by USACOM and CINCLANTFLT, Comfort was ordered to activation to serve as migrant processing center for Haitian migrants, a mission unique in the history of the U.S. Navy. In addition to basic support services, MTF Comfort was directed to provide medical support to the processing effort and establish a one operating room, 50 bed inpatient capability. Comfort commenced activation on May 24, 1994, while undergoing overhaul at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company.

Functioning as the "first ever" afloat migrant processing center, Comfort was brought to operational status with a special mission crewing configuration of 468 Navy personnel reporting from over 50 separate commands. The ship's habitability and support services were fully activated in support of 460 embarked personnel from various federal government and international agencies. Comfort sailed from Mayport, Fla., for her mission destination on June 7, 1994, with a total embarked crew of 928 military and civilian personnel.

USNS Comfort arrived at Kingston, Jamaica, on June 10, 1994. On June 16, 1994, the first Haitian migrants were received and processing commenced. Over the next month, delays in processing and the overwhelming numbers of migrants recovered caused the population sustained on board to grow to more than 1,100. The order to discontinue processing was received, and Comfort sailed for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on July 16, 1994, to debark the remaining 400 migrants. Following a period of decrewing and deactivation in Mayport, Fla., Comfort returned to her layberth in Baltimore, on Aug.19, 1994.

On Sept. 2, 1994, Comfort was again directed to activate for a second unprecedented deployment. The MTF aboard Comfort was tasked to provide a 250 bed medically intensive patient capability for the 35,000 Cuban and Haitian migrants supported by Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Comfort departed her layberth in Baltimore, and arrived at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., on Sept. 5, 1994, for stores on-load and personnel embarkation. Comfort departed Norfolk on Sept. 11, 1994, with a specially configured crew of 566 personnel. While enroute to Guantanamo Bay, orders were received directing Comfort to the coast of Haiti. Seventy-six additional medical personnel were embarked on Sept. 16, 1994, to support the new mission of the MTF, provision of combat surgical support for U.S. contingency operations in Haiti as part of Operation Uphold Democracy.

Following the diplomatic agreement reached between the United States and Haiti, Comfort took up a position off Port-Au-Prince ready to receive casualties that might result from the transfer of U.S. and allied forces ashore. Comfort served as the first and primary echelon 3 medical support facility in the Port-Au-Prince theater of operations. During the period Sept. 16 through Oct. 2, 1994, Comfort personnel provided both medical and surgical support to U.S. and allied forces ashore and afloat, emergency humanitarian care to injured Haitian citizens, and participated in various aspects of the Civil Affairs Program in an effort to aid the rebuild­ing effort of the local healthcare system. Comfort returned to her layberth in Baltimore, Md., on Oct. 14, 1994.

Comfort was activated the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, in response to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and sailed the next afternoon to serve as a 250-bed hospital facility at Pier 92 in midtown Manhattan.

Comfort arrived Sept. 14 at Naval Weapons Station, Earle, N.J., to load additional supplies and Navy medical personnel. While there, the ship was informed that the crew's mission had changed; Comfort would now be providing logistics services to disaster relief workers. Comfort quickly off-loaded nearly 450 Navy medical and facility support personnel and sailed to New York City with about 300 Navy medical personnel and 61 civilian mariners still aboard.

The ship arrived at Pier 92 in Manhattan at about 8:30 p.m. Sept. 14. That evening a small number of relief workers arrived aboard the ship. As word about the ship spread, more workers began arriving over the next few days.

The ship's clinic had seen 561 guests for cuts, respiratory ailments, fractures and other minor injuries, and Comfort's team of Navy psychology personnel had provided 500 mental health consultations to relief workers. Comfort also hosted a group of volunteer New York area massage therapists who gave 1,359 therapeutic medical massages to ship guests.

Designed with the purpose of training more than 3,500 people from seven countries, focused primarily on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and joint medical operations. The exercise tested interoperability among participants, including medical members from Poland, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

With coordination and cooperation as key elements of the operation, the exercise started to gear-up during the ship's port visit in Southampton, England in early July, where the ship embarked most of its exercise participants. The entire crew consisted of not only about 550 U.S. Navy crewmembers, but also military members from the U.K., Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, whom all stayed together aboard the ship during its voyage into the Baltic region for the actual exercise.

Comfort's first stop was a three-day anchorage off the coastal city of Kalipedos in Lithuania, where crewmembers were given the unique opportunity to medically consult with some local patients, both aboard the ship and at a local hospital.

After departing Lithuania, Comfort proceeded to Leipaja, Latvia, where the ship hosted a small reception and tour for some of the country's leadership, including the Deputy Commander of the Latvian Armed Forces. The meeting focused on NATO's "Partnership for Peace" program and the importance of working together with neighboring countries and allies.

Comfort finally arrived in the port of Tallinn, Estonia July 23, and prepared for the major exercise portion of the mission, a mock mass casualty July 25 -27. Over a three-day-period, U.S. crewmembers worked side-by-side with their host nation shipmates, receiving nearly 200 simulated patients, mostly Estonian volunteers from the local community who were done up to look like they had suffered various traumas. Working as a team, it was the job of the entire crew to triage the patients and care for them as if the scenario were real.

While in Tallinn, the ship and its medical staff also hosted "real-world" dental and eye clinics, providing actual care to more than 300 dental patients and nearly 360 eye patients. All together, they estimate they made more than 500 pairs of eyeglasses and performed close to 70 oral surgeries aboard the ship in just three days.

While underway and in-port, and throughout the entire mission, one of the ship's main objectives was also training and education, for its U.S. crewmembers as well as those from other participating countries. Cumulatively, more than 50 medical, nursing and shipboard operational training courses were conducted aboard Comfort, with topics ranging from advanced cardiac life support seminars to life raft survival. Just while in port in Tallinn, Comfort embarked more than 300 local Estonian medical members, conducting daytime classes on the ship.

On December 27, 2002 reports began to surface in the press that the Comfort had been ordered to deploy to Diego Garcia where it would prepare for a possible war with Iraq. The Comfort deployed with a reduced staff on January 6, 2003.

The ship pulled into Rota's naval station May 26, 2003 to pick up supplies and fill their gas tank before the final leg home to Baltimore. Comfort spent 56 consecutive days on station in the Arabian Gulf, providing critical combat medical care to both coalition forces and Iraqis during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The ship's medical staff treated more than 160 coalition inpatients and nearly 200 Iraqi prisoners of war, in addition to another 300 outpatients.


William Cramp and Sons Ship and Engine Building Company of Philadelphia constructed the first Comfort (AH-3) in 1906. It served initially as the passenger vessel Havana, before being requisitioned by the War Department at the start of World War I for use as an Army transport. On 17 July 1917, the ship was transferred to the Navy for duty as a hospital ship. Outfitted at the New York Navy Yard by John M. Robins Company of Brooklyn, the ship was renamed Comfort (AH-3) on 14 March 1918 and commissioned on 18 March.


The second Comfort (AH-6) was launched 18 March 1943 by Consolidated Steel Corporation, Wilmington, California, under a Maritime Commission contract. She was transferred to the Navy the same day, and converted to a hospital ship by Bethlehem Steel Company, San Pedro, California. The ship was commissioned on 5 May 1944.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 31-05-2020 20:44:18 ZULU