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Comfort Returns to Caribbean via Panama Canal

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS070901-01
Release Date: 9/1/2007 8:11:00 AM

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Tyler Jones, USNS Comfort Public Affairs

CARIBBEAN SEA (NNS) -- After completing two thirds of its first full-scale humanitarian deployment, hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) transited the Panama Canal a second time Aug. 30, returning to the Caribbean Sea where it began operations June 20.

Since last crossing the canal July 15, Comfort has conducted missions in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Peru.

Since Comfort’s deployment began June 15, its crew has overcome a variety of challenges, including weather, language barriers and logistics. Every country Comfort has visited during its deployment, with the exception of Belize, has been Spanish-speaking.

After transiting the Panama Canal, Comfort will make its way to Haiti, where the crew will face a new challenge in a nation that speaks an eclectic mixture of French and Creole.

Cmdr. Sandra Hearn, Comfort’s medical operations liaison officer, spoke about the importance of overcoming possible language barriers, saying that host nation translators have played a vital role in the success of Comfort’s mission so far.

“Not having translators can be a show stopper,” said Hearn. “We communicated to the host nations early on and they rallied to help our mission by providing translators for mission sites and all areas of the Comfort.”

Hearn said the new challenge can only be overcome by again partnering with Haitian counterparts to work toward a successful solution that will benefit the people of Haiti.

“A handful of uniformed service members joined us in Panama for our mission trip to Haiti,” said Hearn. “[Haiti] will also be providing translators, and I don’t doubt it will be a success when we work together to solve issues.”

During Comfort’s visit to Haiti, the crew will provide primary adult and pediatric care, including dental and optometry services. Seabees from Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 202 will also travel to a remote clinic to help repair an electrical system and improve a solar-powered power generating station.

“Everyone aboard Comfort, from the Military Sealift Command civilian mariners, to the partner non-governmental organizations have been incredibly flexible,” said Capt. Bob Kapcio, Comfort’s mission commander. “The enthusiasm of the crew for the mission has shown every day through the hard work and adaptability they present.”

Comfort is currently deployed on a four-month humanitarian deployment to Latin America and the Caribbean providing medical treatment to patients in a dozen countries.

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