USNS Comfort Arrives in El Salvador After Completing Nicaragua Visit

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 27, 2007 - USNS Comfort has arrived in El Salvador, the hospital ship's fifth port of call during a four-month humanitarian deployment to more than a dozen Latin American and Caribbean nations.

Before arriving in El Salvador July 25, the ship provided medical and veterinary care in Belize, Guatemala, Panama and Nicaragua. As of July 23, medical specialists aboard the Comfort had seen more than 83,000 patients, and veterinary specialists had seen 2,800 animals.

The Comfort set sail from Norfolk, Va., June 15, as part of U.S. Southern Command's "Partnership for the Americas," a training and readiness operation designed to strengthen multinational partnerships and improve interoperability. The floating hospital is also scheduled to visit Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Haiti, Peru, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago before completing its voyage in September.

In El Salvador, U.S. Navy, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard and Public Health Service specialists, along with Canadian forces and non-government organizations like Project Hope, are providing free health care services -- adult and pediatric primary care, dentistry, optometry and veterinary services.

"Comfort's humanitarian mission has been a tremendous success so far and I know the men and women who work aboard Comfort will continue the outstanding job they've been doing by providing needed medical care to the people of El Salvador," said Capt. Bob Kapcio, Comfort's mission commander.

Comfort will be in El Salvador for seven days, treating patients at Unidad de Salud Acajutla, Caseria Costa Brava School, and Delfina Rivas School. Servicemembers from Comfort will also repair medical equipment at Hospital Sonsonate.
Construction Battalion Maintenance 202 will renovate several of the work sites in El Salvador by repairing water systems, roofing, and re-building certain structures. Project Hope will train at Casa Comunal in Acajulta.

In Nicaragua, Vice President Jaime Morales and other local government officials visited the Comfort July 23 to tour the ship's facilities and meet crew members and patients.

"Having Vice President Morales here was a great honor," said Comfort's mission commander Capt. Bob Kapcio. "This really gave us a chance to show the Nicaraguan leadership our commitment to the people of Nicaragua and we hope that this visit strengthened the bond between us."

Following the tour, Morales and his party along with U.S. officials from the Comfort, visited the Realejo Health Care Center in Realejo, one of three Comfort work sites in Nicaragua. Comfort also provided medical assistance at the Jose Schendal Hospital in Corinto and the Quince de Julio Health Care Center in Chinandega.

U.S. Navy Seabees from aboard the Comfort spent July 20 to 24 repairing and restoring the water system at the 15 de Julio Health Care Center in Chinandega. For three years, the 15 de Julio Health Care Center, a facility that cares for 150 patients a day, has been without running potable water. All water used by the center comes from three 55-gallon drums, filled from a neighborhood water tank located down the road, then transported back by an aging pick-up truck.

"The water is vital for everything, most importantly sterilization and hygiene," said Eddy Artola Vasquez, director of the center. "It has to be rationed for the most serious patients that come to the clinic."

"The major city that supplies this village with water is 16 miles away. Ruptures and a lack of pressure have plagued the piping system. The people in charge have limited funds to provide an adequate water system with enough pressure to reach the center," he said.

The Seabees replaced a broken pump and created a piping system to take water from a newly-dug well to an elevated tank. The tank will provide running water with enough water pressure to accommodate the facility's needs.

"This job is important. It will better the lives and the living situation of these people that are trying to provide medical help to the people of Nicaragua," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Burton, with Construction Battalion Maintenance 202.

"By us completing our mission, the clinic staff can better complete their mission," continued Burton.

The veterinary team aboard Comfort provided services to more than 1,200 cattle, horses, pigs, and dogs at seven ranches in the Chinandega region of Nicaragua from July 20 to 23.

The team, comprised of U.S. Public Health Service officer Lt. Cmdr. Gregg Langham and Army Sgt. Leona Thomas, visited farms throughout the region providing preventive medicine including tetanus shots, deworming, flea and tick treatments, and anti-parasite vaccinations along with minor care for sick and injured animals.

"Since we've arrived here, we've been to several beef cattle farms and we've been deworming and vaccinating the cattle because either the people don't have access to these services or these services are too costly for the local people," Langham said.

Nicaraguan Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry officials worked alongside the Comfort veterinarian team. The ministry, an organization partially funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provided instructors from a veterinary school in Managua, along with a veterinarian and fourth-year veterinary school students for this cooperative mission with Comfort.

"It's such a positive collection of so many different talents and we all came together," Langham said. "Fortunately we have veterinarian instructors and students -- that's been a tremendous help to us. They're hungry to learn and we're both hungry to pass along information."

"I am delighted with the impact the veterinarian team is making in just a matter of a few days in Nicaragua," said Capt. Craig A. Shepherd, USPHS chief environmental health officer and officer in charge of USPHS aboard Comfort. "In addition to deworming and vaccinating hundreds of farm animals, a great opportunity to train and work with local veterinarians and third- and fourth-year veterinarian students occurred as well, and we look forward to doing the same in other countries we will visit."

Nicaragua is the first location that Comfort staff treated cattle. The inspection of cattle plays a vital role in regional public health as the cattle is destined for human consumption.

"These cattle are going to be consumed by the people so I think that it's a great service for the people," Thomas said. "The Comfort mission is a great place to be. I think it's great that the Army is participating in this and providing humanitarian services for the people of Nicaragua."

"I think that this is one of the most satisfying missions I've been doing so far in my military career and I'm glad to be here," Thomas said.

(Petty Officers 2nd Class Brandon Shelander, Steven King and Joshua Karsten of USNS Comfort Public Affairs contributed to this article.)

USNS Comfort Arrives in El Salvador After Completing Nicaragua Visit [ ]