Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gunston Hall Arrives in Haiti to Assist Earthquake Victims

By Lt. j.g. Rick Chernitzer, Operation Unified Response Public Affairs

KILLICK, Haiti (NNS) -- USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44) anchored off Haiti Jan. 18 to begin providing relief supplies and assistance as part of Operation Unified Response.

"We were ready on arrival and began making an immediate difference," said Cmdr. Fred Wilhelm, commanding officer of Gunston Hall.

At anchorage near the Killick Haitian Coast Guard Base, Gunston Hall sent boats ashore laden with people and supplies for use at the base clinic.

"There is a Coast Guard unit there that has been there several days," said Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Tom Guest, an independent-duty corpsman and one of seven medically-trained personnel to go ashore. "The most important thing we could do for them was bring supplies. They were running low on some stuff and what we brought they began to use immediately."

The ship provided rice, dry spaghetti, bottled water and other dry goods, as well as approximately $20,000 worth of much-needed medical supplies to organizations already providing care. Some of the material included thermometers, surgical lights, syringes, medications and bandages.

The ship's doctor and Guest also provided assistance in caring for five of the patients, while other Sailors helped organize the pharmacy and aid in activities to make conditions better for the patients and caregivers. The ship's chaplain also performed spiritual services for the wounded.

"A lot of us were excited because this is what we trained for and what we wanted to provide," said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (SW) Jessica Toothe.

Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Guy Leppry, a French speaker, provided translation services.

"It made me feel like a team player, knowing what I could do is critical to helping patients," said Leppry. "But it was busy; there was never a break."

"We'll continue to do what we can," Wilhelm said. "We're here to help."

Gunston Hall was scheduled to deploy to Africa to take part in Africa Partnership Station (APS) West when it got the word to be part of Operation Unified Response, providing support to Haitian earthquake victims.

A Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship, Gunston Hall recently completed a mid-life modernization availability. The work included major upgrades to the ship's control system, local area network and machinery control system, propulsion systems, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, as well as replacement of the ship's boilers and evaporators with an all-electric services system.

Africa Partnership Station West is an international initiative developed by Naval Forces Europe and Naval Forces Africa that aims to improve maritime safety and security in West and Central Africa.