USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) to deploy to Gulf Coast

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Subject: USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) to deploy to Gulf Coast

USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) to deploy to Gulf Coast

By Mark D. Faram

NavyTimes staff writer
31 August 2005

The Navy is preparing to deploy the hospital ship Comfort to assist in relief efforts on the Gulf Coast. “The USNS Comfort is making preparations to get underway,” said Lt. John Schofield, spokesman for the Navy at the Pentagon, on Aug. 31. “However, she is still awaiting a formal deployment order.”

Though the order was expected, Schofield said specifics on what the ship might carry and who may be embarked were still being worked by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Northern Command, which are in overall charge of the disaster relief efforts. “The Navy is only a piece of this effort,” Schofield said.

“The Comfort is a tool that may be utilized if needed by FEMA and NorthCom — so when they might be able to help, how they might help and to what degree they might be employed will be decided by those agencies through the established task force.” The Comfort, one of the Navy’s two hospital ships currently in service, is a converted oil tanker, measuring 584 feet long and nearly 106 feet wide.

The ship, in service with the Navy since 1987, is a floating 1,000-bed hospital with 12 operating rooms and the ability to care for up to 80 critically injured patients at a time. The ship is operated by Military Sealift Command and is normally kept in a deployment-ready state in its home port of Baltimore.

When the ship is at reduced operating status, it is manned by a civilian crew of 18 civilian mariners and 58 Navy medical people, usually deployed from Bethesda Naval Hospital, though it has total crew accommodations of up to 1,215 people, making it a candidate to house displaced people as well.

In the ship’s 18 years of service, it has activated and deployed four times, including Operation Noble Eagle, where it deployed to New York City in support of the post-Sept. 11 search and rescue efforts and most recently in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

Navy hospital ships have often deployed worldwide in support of natural disaster relief efforts. Comfort’s sister ship, the USNS Mercy, based in San Diego, deployed earlier this year in support of the tsunami relief efforts in Southeast Asia.

YNCS Don Harribine, USN(ret)