Wednesday, March 07, 2007

President Announces Comfort Deployment to Latin America

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael D. Wimbish, U.S. Southern Command Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- President Bush announced March 5 the deployment of the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) to Latin America for a series of humanitarian relief missions.

Bush said he is sending Comfort to 13 South and Central American countries beginning in June, adding that the deployment is going to be busy.

“Altogether, the Comfort's doctors and nurses and health care professionals expect to treat 85,000 patients and conduct up to 15,000 surgeries,” Bush said. “At the same time, military medical teams will be operating inland to help bring treatment and care to other communities. These teams do everything from vaccinating people against disease to building new medical clinics.”

The Comfort announcement came during a speech in Washington, discussing the partnership between the United States and the region prior to the president’s upcoming trip to five nations there later this week. Bush spoke about current and proposed joint efforts to face political, economic and educational challenges -- including U.S. military humanitarian efforts.

U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) and U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command are planning and coordinating the mid-summer deployment with the partner nations Comfort will visit. The deployment is Comfort’s first-ever trip to the region.

“These are people who need help. These are people who might not otherwise get the basic health care they need to realize a better tomorrow,” Bush said.

During the deployment, Bush said Comfort will also partner with the Department of Health and Human Services on a new initiative to provide oral care to the region's poor. Dentists and hygienists will fill cavities and treat infections and provide treatment for the young children.

Comfort is one of two Navy hospital ships with 1,000 hospital beds and 12 operating rooms. The ship’s last major deployment was to the Gulf Coast region in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

In all, Comfort will make port calls in Belize, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.