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Operation Smile Joins CP-15 Mission in Nicaragua

Navy News Service

Story Number: NNS150523-06
Release Date: 5/23/2015 12:33:00 PM

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Andrew Schneider, Continuing Promise 2015 Public Affairs

PUERTO CABEZAS, Nicaragua (NNS) -- Volunteers from Operation Smile, alongside military and civilian medical personnel aboard Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), are providing medical care to citizens from Nicaragua during the Continuing Promise 2015 (CP-15) mission stop May 17-25.

Operation Smile is a worldwide children's medical charity that provides free surgery to children born with a cleft lip or cleft palate. With a presence in more than 60 countries, the organization has provided free surgeries to children around the world since 1982.

'It is a really humbling feeling to help these children,' said Jake Keller, Operation Smile program director. 'You go to these places where people walk around embarrassed and wearing scarves around their face to hide themselves. We are able to change that.'

Before the Comfort arrived in Nicaragua, Operation Smile volunteers pre-screened patients with cleft lips and cleft palates at the Instituto Nacional Tecnolgico in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, to prepare them for reconstructive surgeries aboard the Comfort.

Keller said the 35-member team, which includes plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists, speech pathologists, pediatricians, dentists and nurses, plans to perform more than 75 surgeries aboard the ship while it is anchored off the coast of Nicaragua.

Capt. Christine Sears, the commanding officer of Comfort's Medical Treatment Facility said she looks forward to having the Operation Smile volunteers participate in the CP-15 mission,
'We are honored to have Operation Smile return to the Comfort for another Continuing Promise mission,' said Sears. 'The surgeries they perform are truly life-altering for these young children.'

Operation Smile volunteer Dominique DeClerck, a pre-/post-operation nurse, said she is excited to be a part of another Continuing Promise mission. She had the opportunity to work aboard USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) for Continuing Promise 2008.

'This is very special to me; the surgeries we are doing here are changing the lives of these children forever,' said DeClerck. 'Every time I volunteer it gets better because I get to see a new smile.'

CP-15 marks the seventh time Operation Smile personnel have taken part in a Navy humanitarian assistance mission. In 2006, volunteers deployed with the USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) to Chittagong, Bangladesh, and volunteers have participated in Continuing Promise missions aboard Comfort (2007 and 2009), Mercy (2008 and 2010) and Kearsarge (2008).

In addition to Operation Smile, CP-15 is also partnering with other NGOs, including Latter-Day Saints Charities, Project Hope, Registered Nurses Response Network and the University of California San Diego Pre-Dental Society. CP-15 includes the largest number of NGO participants to date in the history of the mission.

Continuing Promise is a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored and U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet-conducted deployment to conduct civil-military operations including humanitarian-civil assistance, subject matter expert exchanges, medical, dental, veterinary and engineering support and disaster response to partner nations and to show the United States' continued support and commitment to Central and South America and the Caribbean.

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