USNS Comfort, brings long-term medical care to partner nations

U.S. Navy Captain Kathryn Elliott is the vscommanding officer ohofficer of hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) Medical Treatment facility (MTF) since May 2021.

US Navy Capt. Kathryn Elliott, commanding officer of the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) (R), checks a young patient aboard the ship, Oct. 30, 2022. (Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Ethan J. So as)

The USNS Comfort is currently deployed to Latin America and the Caribbean as part of assignment Continuing Promise 2022. The mission, which already stopped in Guatemala and Honduras before Continueon at Colombia, Dominican Republic and Haitihas a crew of approximately 1,000 military and civilians, who work alongside various government agencies to provide medical assistance to local communities based on needs identified by host country health ministries.

Captain Elliott, from San Diego, California, badvice vscertified in Iinternal mmedicine and a FA yellowAmerican College of Physicians, spoke with Dialogo on the importance of his mission aboard the USNS Comfort.

Dialog: What is your priority as commanding officer of the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20)?

US Navy Captain Kathryn Elliott, Commanding Officer of USNS Comfort hospital ship: As Commanding Officer of USNS Comfort, my role is truly two-fold: I am responsible for ensuring the effective and efficient operation of Comfort as the MTF and all the services it provides, and, in coordination with the Military Sealift Command civilian sailors, for many daily functions of a USNS ship. It is demanding and rewarding work that few MTF commanders have the opportunity to experience.

Dialog: USNS Comfort is deploying for two months in support of Continuing Promise 2022. How are you doing the mission?

Captain Elliot: Mission success is about delivering high-quality care and treatment to as many patients as possible in our host nations and ensuring that those nations and their citizens see that the United States is committed as a partner in their country and region.

Dialog: Which soldiers make up the crew on board and what capabilities do they have?

Captain Elliot: Navy medical personnel, primarily from the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Virginia, Staff of the MTF. Medical specialists from the Army, Air Force, partner nations and non-federal entities complement MTF personnel and play a critical role in strengthening maritime partnerships, improving interoperability and increasing readiness. We also have a platoon of US Marines who are responsible for the security of the ship.

Dialog: OWhat do you think is the biggest challenge of this deployment?

Captain Elliot: The biggest challenge is to ensure that our efforts have a lasting impact after Comfort leaves. The mission is about touching lives and building relationships that continue long after we’re gone.

Dialog: What is the most important aspect for crew members when treating patients from partner countries?

Captain Elliot: Our team is made up of humble professionals. They understand that the most important aspects of their interaction with counterparts in partner countries, patients, etc., are providing care and showing respect. As representatives of the United States, the Comfort crew promotes goodwill and strengthens U.S. relations with these countries.

Dialogo: What’s new with this seventh deployment of USNS Comfort in support of Continuing Promise?

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U.S. Navy Capt. Kathryn Elliott, commanding officer of the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) (L), and Clara Maria Barrera Ralda, first female pilot from the Guatemalan Naval Command, speak at a gathering at the Izabal University Center during a women’s peace and security event, Oct. 27, 2022. (Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Ethan J. Soto)

Captain Elliot: Continuing Promise continues to expand and include more initiatives as we strengthen our partnerships.The region is prone to natural disasters, as evidenced by the earthquake that struck the Cayes region of Haiti in August 2021, followed by the passage of Tropical Storm Grace over the same region two days later. The Continuing Promise enables training and exchanges of information on a variety of humanitarian and disaster relief topics so that, when called upon, personnel can respond quickly to such disasters.

Continuing Promise 2022 also offers women, peace and security initiative seminars at every mission stop in support of United NOTations Resolution 1345. Women are most affected by conflict and crisis, and research shows that including women in security planning leads to a more peaceful world.

Dialogo: How do US military personnel work alongside civilians, federal agencies and partner nations to provide medical assistance to communities in need?

Captain Elliot: The U.S. military worked side-by-side with civilians and federal agencies throughout the planning process to make this iteration of Continuing Promise as successful as possible. Medical assistance is coordinated with Ministries of Health and U.S. agencies for in-country occupational health issues, such as US Department of Health and Human ServicesWE International Development Agency, Zoosanitary and phytosanitary inspection service, and centers for disease control and prevention. It is important that we continue to work with these agencies because they provide continuity of care where we are going.