San Juan, Puerto, Rico - The Mercy-class Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) held a medical summit onboard with local and federal stakeholders to synchronize efforts for the ship's mission of providing humanitarian assistance throughout the area, Tuesday.
The Department of Defense is supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the lead federal agency, in helping those affected by Hurricane Maria to minimize suffering and is one component of the overall whole-of-government response effort.
"A lot of the folks you will encounter have lost everything. Everything," said Surgeon General of the United States, Vice Adm. Jerome M. Adams. "You are going to be on the front lines."
Comfort's medical staff fielded questions from the visitors and discussed ideas about how best to employ the ship.
Capt. Kevin Buckley, commanding officer of Comfort's medical treatment facility, further explained the capabilities of the floating hospital to the medical leaders aboard.
"My staff is ready to go, my staff is ready to relieve human suffering," said Buckley.
In addition to the purely medical possibilities, Capt. Kevin Robinson, Comfort's mission commander, spoke about the logistics capabilities brought to the island by the ship.
"This summit was a perfect start because now we have a lay of the land and can hit the ground running," said Robinson.
The meeting introduced key health leaders to Comfort and prepared the ship to be used optimally.
"We are Americans like you," said Puerto Rico Secretary of Health, Dr. Rafael Rodriguez Mercado. "Some of them maybe lost everything. We are here, not only to give medicine, but to give hope. Like the priest, sit down with them and give them Comfort."
Comfort currently has more than 800 personnel embarked for the Puerto Rico mission including Navy medical and supporting staff assembled from 22 commands, as well as over 70 civil service mariners.
Part of the ship's mission is to provide mobile surgical hospital service and acute medical care in disaster or humanitarian relief, and has one of the largest trauma facilities in the United States, operating a wide spectrum of state-of-the-art gear-including four X-rays, a computerized tomography unit and dental suites.
Comforts primary mission is to provide medical support to Marine Corps, Army and Air Force units deployed ashore, and naval amphibious task and battle forces afloat, but is currently configured for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Its missions hanged from the Persian Gulf War's Operation Desert Storm to relief efforts during Operation Unified Response in Haiti, and the most recent, Operation Continuing Promise.