For many on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States the workday is over. However, for the civilian and Navy crewmembers aboard USNS Comfort steaming to provide relief to Haitians devastated by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake, the workday thought over began anew.
Shortly after 9 p.m. the loudspeakers aboard the ship, used to pass general messages, rang out an announcement that the ship would be going to flight quarters. This initial call to action was followed by other messages for medical team leaders to begin preparations to receive patients.
The ship took on a new life as aviation personnel, doctors, nurses, corpsman and other support services personnel mustered to prepare the floating 1,000-bed hospital to receive it's first two patients, inbound via helicopter from USS Carl Vinson.
The sheer thought of it is amazing. Just three days ago, Comfort got underway from her homeport of Baltimore to begin what was thought to be a six-day trip before the first patients would arrive. Instead, they are now on their way three days early due to the tireless efforts of the crew, who got the ship deployed in record time. This too is an astounding feat, given that the ship's mission requirement dictates that she be prepared to sail in no less than five days once a deployment order is received. Comfort did it in less than 77 hours!
In the three days that Comfort has been underway, the combined crew leaned forward on all fronts. All hands worked long hours to meet the needs of the patients they now have inbound. Their enthusiasm is contagious and has shown at the end of each day by the lack of standing room on the mess decks for nightly briefs to the crew. While not mandatory, the briefs have drawn a full house each night. Camaraderie is apparent at the briefs, which keep our Sailors abreast of any of the changes in our plans.
This evening, though, changes to the plan came quickly when coordination between key members aboard Carl Vinson and Comfort determined that patients intended to fly aboard Comfort tomorrow were in critical condition and needed top medical care tonight. The choice was an easy one for those aboard both vessels, and the decision was made to affect the transfer tonight to give a six-year-old boy with a bladder injury and pelvic fracture and a 20-year-old man with a head injury and skull fracture their best chances at a future brighter than the one presented in the aftermath of Jan. 12.
Tonight begins yet another step in the United States commitment to our Haitian neighbors already begun by our brothers and sisters on board Carl Vinson, Bataan, and our sister services. We are proud to be here to help. We are capable and eager to face the uncertain challenges of the days ahead. Most of all, we are thankful to be here early to bring much needed aid to our friends in Haiti!