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American Forces Press Service

USS Bataan Ready to Help in Haiti

By Christen N. McCluney
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 20, 2010 – The USS Bataan is in Haiti as part of the Bataan Amphibious Relief Mission to participate in Operation Unified Response.

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Melanie Merrick, Bataan senior medical officer; Cmdr. William Wallace, Fleet Surgical Team 8 officer-in-charge; and Lt. Cmdr. Seon Jones, FST 8 surgeon, spoke to bloggers and journalists during a Jan. 19 "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable.

"The primary goal is getting people on the beach and getting a site secure," Merrick said. "There is obviously a lot of demand for the supplies and we are getting security in place to have a more permanent residence and be able to distribute supplies."

The Bataan arrived in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince yesterday and began unloading supplies such as beach-clearing equipment, bulldozers and rubble removers. Bataan’s mission is to render aid and take supplies ashore, Merrick said.

Disaster relief is not new to the Bataan. It was the first Navy ship on-scene after Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast in August 2005. The ship spent 19 days supporting the relief efforts by moving more than 1,600 people to safety and delivering more than 160,000 pounds of supplies.

The ship has a small surgical team with four operating rooms, 13 intensive care unit beds and 38 ward beds. The medical team is expecting another 87 medical personnel to help augment the surgical team, Jones said, to allow physicians to rotate and provide constant care.

“We are expecting to receive patients aboard Bataan,” Wallace said, but the primary goal is getting relief ashore. It’s simply “the biggest thing to enter the area” from a medical perspective, he said, adding that everyone is working together as ships arrive to assess the relief mission so that no one ship is overwhelmed.

"We believe all ships will see Haitian citizens and U.S. citizens and anyone that can be taken on," Wallace said.

The USNS Comfort arrived today with 1,000 beds and 600 medical personnel, bringing the total U.S. medical military support in the area to about 1,500.

The aid will last as long as it's needed, Merrick said.

The medical team is ready for patients and is on standby. "We want to do the greatest good for the greatest amount of people," Jones said, "and a lot of times that includes a lot of moving parts."

(Christen N. McCluney works in the Defense Media Activity's emerging media directorate.)

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