Tuesday, October 21, 2008

USS Kearsarge Reaches Mid-deployment of Continuing Promise Mission

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Emmitt J. Hawks, Continuing Promise 2008 Public Affairs

USS KEARSARGE (NNS) -- USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), reached the mid-point of its deployment supporting the humanitarian/civic assistance (HCA) mission Continuing Promise (CP) 2008 while in the Dominican Republic.

Kearsarge's mission during CP 08 is to conduct joint civil-military operations including humanitarian and civic assistance, as well as veterinary, medical, dental and civil engineering support to six partner nations and to send a strong message of compassion, support and commitment to Central and South America and the Caribbean.

Departing Norfolk, Va., Aug. 6, the ship has since completed HCA missions in Nicaragua and Colombia and is currently conducting HCA operations in the Dominican Republic.

"This has been an excellent deployment so far," said CP 08 Mission Commander, Capt. Fernandez "Frank" Ponds. "We've been able to assist and partner with many of our friends in region. It has been a great display of friendship and cooperation, and we'll continue to foster those valuable relationships in the countries to come."

One month into the HCA mission, Kearsarge was called upon to assist with humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HADR) operations in Haiti after the country was struck by four tropical storm systems in less than a month.

Kearsarge's capabilities include rapid movement of personnel and cargo by helicopter and landing craft, making it an ideal platform to support humanitarian relief missions on short notice.

"The Haiti disaster relief effort really demonstrated the incredible and unique capabilities of the USS Kearsarge, and its ability to provide heavy-lift support." said Maj. Thomas DeFazio, officer in charge of CP 08 engineers.

Marine and Navy helicopters embarked aboard Kearsarge flew more than 100 missions, and landing craft units transported more than 30 loads of supplies. These operations led to the timely delivery of more than 3.3 million pounds of food, water and other relief supplies.

Crew members from the embarked Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28, Detachment 5 and Marine Heavy Helicopter (HMH) Squadron 464 are proud of the support they have been able to offer the CP 2008 mission and especially to the citizens of Haiti during such a devastating time.

"During this endeavor, we have best been utilized for our ability to provide medevac, [very important personnel] transport and small landing zone (LZ) access," said Chief Aviation Electronics Technician Marsh Weber, search and rescue chief of HSC-28, Det. 5.

Weber said the detachment's single most memorable and challenging moment during the disaster relief efforts was when the "Voodoo Knights" of HSC-28 were called upon to deliver food and water to an isolated Haitian orphanage that had no vehicle access and no landing zone.

"Due to the nimble nature of the MH-60S and the skill-set derived through search and rescue training, our crews were the only CP asset able to hover low over the scene and hoist down the essential items to the hurricane victims," said Weber. "We all felt proud that we could help some of the most critically challenged when their situation looked grim."

Weber said his team, like the rest of the CP 08 team, looks forward to the rest of the mission and is ready to face any oncoming challenges, both planned and unplanned.

"I could not have been more proud of the Kearsarge crew and all of the embarked units," said Commanding Officer Capt. Walter Towns. "No one hesitated to answer the call when one of our neighbors needed assistance."

Kearsarge departed Haiti Sept. 26 heading toward the Dominican Republic to continue its HCA mission.
To date, the Continuing Promise 2008 medical and dental team of more than 150 military medical professionals and non-governmental organizations, have worked alongside partner nation officials to treat more than 30,000 primary care patients, dispense more than 57,000 prescriptions, provide veterinary care to nearly 4,000 animals and conduct more than 100,000 medical, dental and optometric services.

Additionally, medical personnel performed more than 70 surgeries on board the ship during the mission. One of the more recent surgeries involved two 8-year-old twin boys who received eye surgery to correct strabismus, a condition where the eyes do not properly align with one another.

"The boys have been dealing with this problem since they were born," said Joselyn Altagracia Carmarena Vargas, the twins' mother. "This blessing has been a long time coming, and our family is very grateful for everything that is being done for us."

For most of the doctors on the Continuing Promise team, the smiles, hugs and handshakes have made this mission worthwhile.

"It gives me great satisfaction to be able to have helped these boys in a way no one else could," said Cmdr. Brian Alexander, an ophthalmologist embarked aboard Kearsarge for the CP 08 mission. "The smiles on the faces of the twins and their mother were one of the biggest rewards I could have received."

Navy Seabees attached to Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit (CBMU) 202 and civil engineers from the Air Force's 5th Civil Engineer Squadron's Prime Base Emergency Engineer Force, both embarked aboard Kearsarge, have completed 15 construction and renovation projects during the mission and expect to complete at least seven more in the remaining countries.

"The projects thus far have been very successful," said DeFazio. "There have been many highlights, to include the renovations at the Municipal Park in Puerto Cabezas [Nicaragua] where kids swarmed the playground at the closing ceremony to the construction of a modified seahut into an L-shaped school at Los Alpes [Colombia] which was dedicated as Escuela Kearsarge."

When Kearsarge departs the Dominican Republic, they will move forward with the Continuing Promise mission to Trinidad and Tobago.

Kearsarge's mission exemplifies the United States Maritime Strategy which emphasizes deploying forces to build confidence and trust among nations through collective maritime security efforts that focus on common threats and mutual interest.

USS Kearsarge is under the operational control of U.S. 4th Fleet. U.S. 4th Fleet's mission is to direct United States naval forces operating in the Caribbean and Central and South American regions and interact with partner nation navies to shape maritime environment.

The Continuing Promise Caribbean Phase is the second of two HCA deployments to the Southern Command area of focus for 2008. The first Continuing Promise deployment was conducted by USS Boxer (LHD 4) in the Pacific.

Embarked units and organizations aboard Kearsarge for CP include Commander, Amphibious Squadron 8, Fleet Surgical Team 4; U.S. Public Health Service; Navy Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 202; Air Force Civil Engineering Squadron 5's Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force; contingents of medical personnel from the armed forces of the Canada, The Netherlands, France and Brazil; Navy Assault Craft Unit 2; Naval Beach Group 2; nongovernmental organizations International Aide, Operation Smile and Project Hope; U.S. Navy Maritime Civil Affairs Squadron 2; Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28; and Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 464.