Friday, August 7, 2009


Well, it's time to wrap up this deployment! We left Baltimore on March 13th and returned to Baltimore on August 4th. Since my last post, we stopped in Panama City for three days of much deserved liberty for the crew, While we were there, most of our NGO partners departed and a handful of our Active Duty staff. We then stopped in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for two days of "Media Availability" and about 107 of our staff left. After that, we set sail for Norfolk, where we arrived on July 30th. The original plan was for most of our remaining crew to leave then (the whole of the Mission Commander's staff, all the various detachments, and most of the remaining hospital staff) but, before we arrived, we were told that we would be having a special visitor greet us on Friday, the 31st.

There was a lot of back and forth about who needed to stay, but it was finally decided that all we needed to field was a rent-a-crowd of 250 - 300 people. So, we asked all of the people who lived in the Norfolk, Virginia area to come back the next day, as well as the people who would remain with the ship for the trip to Baltimore, and we were able to let the rest leave. So, another 100 or so of our crew left for good in Norfolk.

And on Friday, we were honored to be met by Mrs. Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States, who came to Norfolk to welcome us home from our mission. While I must admit, that originally I wasn't thrilled about her visit, I am glad to say that it was very nice and I'm glad that I got to participate.

So, to wrap up this blog, how about some numbers: During CONTINUING PROMISE '09 the crew of the USNS COMFORT did some amazing work. We registered and treated 100,049 patients. Performed 1691 surgeries. Provided over 432,000 healthcare services, trained over 39,000 people, treated almost 40,000 animals, repaired over $3 Million in medical equipment, built schools, clinics, and recreation facilities, and probably most importantly, we changed ourselves.

All together nearly 1600 people participated as part of the crew of CONTINUING PROMISE '09. 274 volunteers from Project Hope, Operation Smile, Latter-Day Saints Ministries, University of California at San Diego Pre-Dental Society, and Rotary International. 76 Foreign Partners from the Netherlands, Canada, Brazil, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Antigua Barbuda, Panama and Colombia. I actually heard one Project Hope volunteer comment that people wearing camouflage had always seemed so intimidating, but she learned that they were just regular people! We also had some camouflage wearing warriors learn that tree-huggers weren't so bad either! We all learned what great things could be done when we work together, each bringing their strengths to the table, and what a difference we can make in the world.

You may notice that there aren't any pictures in this post. That's because I can't seem to locate my camera since we got home! I'm sure it will show up sometime, but for now anyway, we'll have to do without! Thank you to everyone who participated in this mission. Every one of you made a difference! Thank you for those of you at home who "kept the home fires burning!" You made a difference too because you bore the sacrifice of having your loved ones gone and made it possible for them to do that. Thank you to those who made this mission possible and who invested the thousands of man-hours in planning all the things that had to happen to make this a success. And last, but certainly not least, Thank God for keeping us safe and returning us home to our families. And for the family of our fallen sister, Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Pamela Branum, I pray that God will give you peace in knowing that she gave her life in the service of others.

Well, it's time to get to work planning the next mission of the Mighty USNS COMFORT! Until then. . .

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Nicaragua! Lucky Number 7!

Nicaragua is our seventh and final country for Continuing Promise 2009! That's got to be lucky, right! Wrong! But who needs luck!

First, Nicaragua came literally on the heals of El Salvador. Less than a day after leaving La Union, we arrived at Corinto, Nicaragua. It was only about an 80 mile trip. The bad part was that it gave our people almost no time at all to recharge their batteries. El Salvador was a very difficult country from a logistics perspective. It was a long boat ride every day to and from the shore, the weather was brutally hot, and the Pacific swell made it difficult to get back onto the ship. Nicaragua made El Salvador feel like a walk in the park!

The first couple of days, we sat at anchor outside the harbor of Corinto. Several times we needed to stop surgery because the ship was rocking so hard! Finally, one day, we took 14 degree rolls which made life pretty interesting on the ship: We couldn't operate, we couldn't land helicopters, we couldn't launch or recover boats, and lesser men weaved their way down passageways like they had spent a little too much time at the pub!

So, we put to sea, heading into the swell instead of rolling back and forth in it. We ran a racetrack course taking us 12 miles or so out to sea, and then coming back in toward shore in a perfectly timed ballet to meet our small boats as they braved the waves coming back to the ship. We did that for nearly a week.

Finally, the waves settled a little and we went back to anchor. Well, for a little while at least. Then we were right back to rockin and rollin, so in no time, we were back to the NASCAR circuit!

I usually try to get ashore on the third day of each mission. This time, it wasn't until about 10 days into the mission before I got a chance to go ashore. We were being visited by Dr. Rice, the President of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD. I was on the faculty of that school a few years back, so it was a pleasure to welcome him aboard! CAPT Ware and I took him ashore to show him one of our medical sites before he had to fly off. We flew to shore on one of the Army helicopters that are helping to support our mission while here in Nicaragua. It was a beautiful day!

Our Director for Administration, LCDR Danielle Wooten and our Chief Information Officer, LT Sean Kelley accompanied us.

But now we are reaching the end. During our last day in Nicaragua, we sent 164 of our Shipmates ashore for the last time. We said goodbye to our friends from the Netherlands, and from Project Hope. We also said goodbye to 55 Army reservists, and 45 Navy reservists. Most of our volunteers from the University of California at San Diego went home, and we said goodbye to several of our Host Nation physicians who have been with us for most of this journey:

From the Dominican Republic, we said goodbye to Dr. Salas.

From El Salvador, we said goodbye to Dr. Schonenberg.

From Nicaragua, we said goodbye to Dr. Perez and Dr. Nicaragua. Yes that's right, Dr. Nicaragua from Nicaragua. I guess he's kind of like their Uncle Sam!

Tonight we had our Close-Out Brief for Nicaragua and for the mission as a whole. This was primarily to recap all the work done in all seven of our Host Nations.

As always, the close-out brief was amazing to see and hear some of the stories from what happened in Nicaragua. Our pediatricians treated little children that would have died without their help. Our surgeons did amazing work. Our veterinarians treated thousands of animals and taught veterinary students as well. I wish that there had been a way to capture those stories and to share them with everyone, but maybe that's one of the rewards for being here: to hear first hand and to see with your own eyes the work of these truly great humanitarians.

I started writing this blog post back on July 14th. It is now July 19th and we are anchored in Panama City for three days of liberty. This is our first liberty port in 56 days. That's 56 days of working 16+ hours a day, seven days a week, in often sweltering heat and choking humidity. Because of the limited availability of boats to transport people ashore, it took over seven hours to get the portion of our crew who weren't on duty ashore. I went out last night myself for a couple of hours and had a delicious meal at a place called "Alberto's."

Today, I hope to get ashore again sometime this afternoon, but first, I'm hosting a group of DV's (Distinguished Visitors) onboard for a tour of the ship.

Tomorrow, I'm going diving! That should be a blast!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Follow-Up on Eduardo & Andreas!

If you don't remember Eduardo and Andreas, look back at my Blog entry for Tumaco, Colombia. These were the two boys who were badly burned as infants and had grown up as abandoned children, begging for their existence.

These kids became instant celebrities onboard COMFORT for the 10 days they were with us! They took over the bridge, learnd about the magic of a soda fountain, and for the first time in their lives, knew what it was to be loved.

But now the COMFORT has moved on and we're currently bringing hope to the people of Nicaragua. But the change in the lives of Eduardo and Andreas isn't quite over yet. Today, we received the e-mail that I'll list below. The original was sent to one of our nurses on the ship who had worked with the boys (LT Cely), she in turn translated the essence of the e-mail and forwarded it on to the rest of the team. I'll include both e-mails below:

"From: Cely, Dinorah, LT
Sent: Monday, July 06, 2009 7:57 PM
To: Marino, Mark G., CDR
Subject: FW: SALUDOS


Just got an email from Maria Jesus. The best thing is that someone (the name below) in the US already has contacted her and has expressed her desire to become a godmother to Luis Eduardo and pay for his surgical procedures necessary. Maria Jesus has begun to contact a clinic in Bogota to make appt’s. I have family in Bogota and will contact them for possibly having them stay there. I am so happy!
The boys send their regards to the COMFORT family.


LT Cely

From: maria montenegro []
Sent: Monday, July 06, 2009 9:33 PM
To: Cely, Dinorah, LT
Subject: SALUDOS

Ipiales, julio 6 de 2.009

Teniente CELLY
La saludo y le envìo mucho ànimo para continuar en la misiòn humanitaria, le envìo muchos saludos de los niños LUIS EDUARDO Y CAMILO ANDRES, se estàn recuperando favorablemente.
Algo positivo que le comento es que una señora de nombre ANGELICA MARIA HOYOS residente en los Estados Unidos se ha comunicado conmigo con el fin de expresar que desea apadrinar a LUIS EDUARDO y le quiere apoyar economicamente en las cirugias necesarias, por tanto ya hice el contacto con la clinica del quemado en Bogota y solicitarè cita para valoracion en Agosto cuando pienso viajar con los niños y si es necesario tendremos que ubicarlos temporalmente en hogares sustitutos en esa ciudad. Esto que le comento son realmente buenas noticias y se que a traves de Uds se nos abrieron muchas oportunidades de ayudar màs a los niños.
LUIS EDUARDO Y ANDRES CAMILO les envìan muchos saludos, tambien han manifestado que desean que les escriban.
ANDRES CAMILO expreña de sobremanera a KATTY y RICARDO de quienes no han recibido noticias.
Que la distancia no sea un obstàculo para olvidar a tan especiales personas, al contrario que fortalezcamos esos lazos de amistad a travès de la comunicacion.


If anyone else would like to participate in the care of these children, let me know and I'll pass your name along.

Nicaragua has been interesting! The seas, which have been so calm for so much of our trip are now showing just how easy it is for them to throw 69,000 metric tons of steel around! Oh well, I'll write about Nicaragua later!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

La Union, El Salvador

We always eat well on COMFORT, but about once a month or so, we have some pretty special grub! Well this month, it was steak and lobster! Two of my very favorites!

That was delicious! Now I have the strength to go on with the blog!

La Union is a small town located in the Southwest portion of El Salvador, about a good stone’s throw from Honduras and Nicaragua. It is a beautiful part of the country with green EVERYWHERE!! We have a very aggressive medical mission here in El Salvador with a total of five medical site locations reaching from La Union up to San Miguel, nearly an hour by bus away.

During our time here in El Salvador, we were visited by Rear Admiral Dullea, the Deputy Commander of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. I was able to escort her ashore as we together visited two of our medical sites. CAPT Ware (Hospital CO) and CAPT Negus (Mission Commander) met us when we arrived ashore and together we visited the sites.

This has been a challenging port for us. Due to the geography surrounding La Union and the lack of port services, we are forced to be anchored out with an 11 nautical mile small boat transfer to get ashore. We also have a significant current to deal with depending on the tides, so the trip ashore can take between an hour if the tides are with us, and nearly two hours if they’re not. The waterway is also full of floating debris (trees, logs, etc.) making small boat operations too dangerous to do at night. Typically, we would move about 140 people ashore daily by small boat. That amounts to two trips each for our two “Hospitality” boats. If we were to do that here, it would take us four hours to get those people ashore and another four hours to get them back, only leaving a few hours in the day to see patients. Another confounding factor, has been the sea state. Typically in the afternoon, the sea state rises and makes it dangerous to transfer people by small boat back to the ship. The bottom line is that this has been a very difficult mission site from a logistics perspective.

That hasn’t stopped our people from excelling!! For every problem, there has been a solution. For every difficulty, there have been devoted people who work through the issue and continue to do what we’re here to do: Help the people of La Union. Even though working in dangerous heat (today’s heat index is forecast to reach 130 degrees!), with no Air Conditioning, our medical and dental teams have done amazing work. Averaging over 1,900 patients per day, our hospital staff spends four days and three nights ashore before they are relieved and return to the ship for a brief respite.

So how has this been received by the people of La Union? Well the Mayor of the city presented the Key to the city to our Mission Commander, CAPT Negus. This is the first time (including a visit by President Hoover) that the Key has ever been presented to an American. But of course, we’re not here to collect accolades, we’re here to help people, train ourselves and our partners, and build relationships that hopefully will last a lifetime!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Three Days at Sea!

Tumaco was a great success, but now it's time to head North! We left Tumaco at about 11:00am on 17 Jun and started the three day transit to La Union, El Salvador. Usually, between each port, we take a day "Strategic Pause." After nearly two solid weeks of non-stop, early morning to late at night work, it is a single day where we let people sleep in, stop the planning rhythm, and usually try to throw in a Bar-B-Que on the flight deck, or in Navy parlance: A Steel-Beach Picnic.

Of course, no Steal-Beach Picnic would be complete without the band! So while the rest of us take the day off, the band plays on! I'll tell you, I was a little suspicious when this Air Force band showed up to set sail on a Navy ship, but these folks are great! They do a tremendous amount of work, supporting all kinds of events on the ship and off. And on top of that, they are GOOD!

So after three days, we dropped anchor off the coast of El Salvador, in the Southwest corner of the country in a town called La Union. El Salvador is known as the "Land of Volcanos" as there are over 200 volcanic peaks in this, the smallest country in Central America.

I worked with the deck crew to drop the anchor and took the following pictures as we anchored at about 6:30am.

I'll try to do another post tomorrow with some pictures of our operations ashore!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Tumaco Wrap-up

It's been a very busy week this week, and I'll talk more about that in my next post, but before we move on from Tumaco, I need to share this with you. At the end of each country, we have a country wrap-up where each of our LOOs (Lines of Operation) get up in front of a group of about 200 or so filling the mess decks, and shares what was accomplished in each country. It's always a special time, but this time, we were told about two young boys. . . Rather than me telling you about it, let me share the story with you through the words of CDR Mark Marino, our Director of Nursing Services:

"We were able to do a lot of good things in Colombia that made everyone feel good about the mission. But the highlight was caring for Eduardo and Andreas.

They both came from six hours away to get help. And because they didn't have a place to stay until their surgery date, we brought them aboard the ship the first day and they stayed with us until we pulled up anchor 10 days later.

Eduardo was a toddler when he was home alone (mom is a prostitute and dad is in jail for drug trafficking) and he knocked a candle into his bed. He sustained severe burns to the whole right side of his body and he lost his right hand. When he was five years old, mom discovered that he could make some money begging because of his burns and missing hand. So he was pushed into the streets as a beggar. He went from relative to relative and then was abandoned and homeless at the age of eight. Fast forward through four years of homelessness and he is picked up by the Colombian equivalent of Social Services and placed in foster care.

Andreas was living under a bridge with his family when he was five. A car driving by flicked a cigarette off the bridge and onto his shanty setting it ablaze. He and his brother and sister sustained severe burns to their bodies. I don't know if it was stigma or cost of care, but they too were abandoned and have been in foster care for five years now.

Both boys came aboard to have their scars revised. Andreas (on the right) had limited range of motion to his neck because of the scarring. Eduardo could not completely close his right eye and that side of his mouth was in a permanent droop because of scar tissue.

This is where the fun begins! Neither kid had experienced anything like this. They came aboard on a helicopter and then the staff treated them like their own. Over a week, we took them all over the ship. They sat in the Captain's chair on the bridge and spent the time looking through binoculars the wrong way at all of us b/c we looked miniature! They thought it was hilarious! We got them into our flight tower where they talked on the radio to some of our flight crew and got to watch the helicopters lift supplies off the deck. They had no idea what to say on the radios so they just kept saying "hola" and our Spanish speaking pilot would answer back w/ a question only to get a "hola!"

I took them up to our galley where Eduardo was enthralled with all of the drink fountains. He had 3 separate drink glasses on his tray and drank 5 different sodas and juices. They ate so much ice cream, I thought they were going to pop. They played games with the staff, regularly had meals with us in the galley, and were just the greatest kids. Eduardo commented to his social worker that he never before felt so important or loved as he did on the ship.

A bunch of my nursing staff went up to the flight deck to see them off and both boys were crying and saying that they didn't want to leave. Heart breaking but also rewarding in that they had a week where they were just normal kids with no worries about their next meal or bed. And they got to do and see some really cool stuff that just about any little boy would love. It was a privilege to be there for them."

The people of Tumaco were gracious hosts and it was a pleasure to have been able to meet them and work together with the Ministry of Health to meet some of the medical needs of these people. We provided over 65,000 healthcare services to over 16,000 people in the 10 days that we were in Tumaco. Additionally, we were able to perform 247 surgeries from cleft lip and pallet repairs to forming an ear for a young lady who was born without her right ear! It's amazing to see what happens to radically change people's lives!

As I write this entry this evening, we have already arrived in La Union, El Salvador and are hard at work in the "Land of the Volcanos!"

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Change of Command!

Command in the Navy is a sacred trust. The Commander is ultimately responsible for mission accomplishment, and the life and safety of his crew. Every command in the Navy can chart an unbroken line of succession from its creation or commissioning through to its ultimate decommissioning. Today, we participated in the transition of command for our Mission Commander, the Commander of Amphibious Squadron SIX. The Commander of Amphibious Squadron SIX, Commodore Bob Lineberry, was assigned as the Mission Commander of Continuing Promise '09 about a year ago. Commodore Lineberry led all of the planning efforts, pre-deployment site surveys, and finally the execution of this mission from our sailing on April 1st through today.

Today, his relief, Captain Tom Negus, relieved him of command and is now both the Commander, Amphibious Squadron SIX, and the Mission Commander for the rest of Continuing Promise '09.

The Change of Command ceremony is very special in the Navy. It is a public display of the transfer of the mantel of leadership from one person to another. During the ceremony, the outgoing Commander reads his orders (directing him to detach from one command and report to another). His successor likewise reads his orders (ordering him to report to this command), and states, "I relieve you, Sir." The outgoing Commander then replies, "I stand relieved." At that moment, the new Commander assumes full responsibility for the command.

A Change of Command is always a time of mixed emotions. Commodore Lineberry has been a great leader and has been a true friend to this mission, and to the crew of USNS COMFORT. He will be greatly missed! But at the same time, we look forward with excitement to the leadership of Commodore Negus! He has been onboard the ship for about a week now, being briefed by a wide cross-section of the crew and observing first-hand how we conduct operations. He will bring a fresh set of eyes and a renewed enthusiasm to this mission that will no doubt reenergize our efforts as we push forward to the end!

Last night, our wonderful Air Force Band helped us say goodbye to Commodore Linebery with a great concert on the messdecks. The Commodore joined the band as they played "Smoke on the Water", some AC/DC, and finally some Blues. It was a great way to say goodbye!

A career in the Navy is full of hellos and goodbyes. It's never easy, but it keeps our Commands strong, nimble, and ready to face the challenges ahead. It battles complacency and the natural cycle of organizational decay that happens when we become stagnant in our thinking.

Commodore Lineberry, we wish you all the best as you move on in your storied career with the traditional Navy blessing of "Fair Winds and Following Seas!"

Commodore Negus, we welcome you as our Mission Commander and look forward to your leadership in the weeks ahead!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Tumaco, Colombia

Tumaco Colombia is a small, sea-side town on the South-Western edge of Colombia. As in so many of the places we've visited, the need is great. Children, old people, and many in between stand in line for hours waiting to be seen.

As is usually the case, LCDR Hobbs (Current Operations for our Mission Commander) and I went ashore together to gain some situational awareness of what is happening at both our Medical/Dental sites and at other activities around town. In this picture, it's me, our Colombian Army guard, Danielle Wooten (our Director for Administration) and Big Al Hobbs.

This country is different than all of our previous stops because we have a contingent of our crew who are Remaining Over Night (RON)on shore instead of returning to the ship each evening. Because we're anchored out, this gives them the opportunity of getting a head start on the day and reduces the number of people we need to transport ashore each day. Our first stop of the day was to the hotel that is serving as our RON site. It is a decent hotel with Air Conditioned rooms, a satisfactory restaurant, and a pool. (I'm not sure I would swim in the pool, but it's there for the brave of heart!) Of course, by the time our people get there after working in the sweltering heat all day, I'm not sure they're much in the mood to enjoy the few amenities offered, well, maybe the A/C!

Our next stop was our engineering site. This site is the most ambitious project undertaken by our Seabeas. In less than two weeks, they are building four structures: Three separate classroom buildings, and a separate kitchen facility! We were there on day four of the project, and as you can see from the pictures, they are making some pretty awesome progress!


Next we went to the Medical site. We are referring to this site as our "Super Site" because it really is a perfect location for this mission! It consists of a large, walled school complex with multiple buildings, plenty of space, and a relatively great place to separate patients, allow them to wait in chairs, under tents, and manage their flow effectively throughout the site.

Following our visit to the Medical site, we were taken to the Colombian Marine Base where we caught a Colombian Marine boat back to the ship. As we were getting ready to leave, I noticed the boat shown in this picture. This is some of the latest in Drug Running technology. These semi-submersible boats ride mostly under water, with less than two feet extending above the surface. They can carry eight TONS of cocaine! Well, this one won't any more!

On the way home, we took a Colombian Marine boat that has been supporting our efforts to move people back and forth. It was a pretty quick ride out to the ship, but it was a little bumpy! When we arrived at the COMFORT, we had a bit of a challenge getting back aboard. First we tried from the Port side, but the Pacific swell was pretty intense and only one person from our boat was able to make the leap of faith from the Colombian boat to one of our lifeboats that was lowered to the water. So after banging together a bit and subsequently parting the stern line from the Colombian boat, we went to the other side of the ship and eventually made it work!

Finally tonight, we've been employing some technology of our own. This is a picture of our VTC system that we have been using to share some of the really cool stuff we've been doing on this trip with Residents and Medical Staff at facilities ashore. This is an abdominal hysterectomy that was done to remove a uterus with huge fibroid tumors. Medical facilities from around the country were able to connect through a bridge and watch this surgery and speak to our surgeons real-time in the OR during the case. Pretty cool, huh!?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Crossing the Line!

N 0 Deg. 0 Min. 0 Sec. by W 80 Deg. 50 Min. 41 Sec. Plug those coordinates into Google Earth, and that is where our ship, full of slimy polliwogs crossed the equator, came face to face with the terror of Davy Jones, endured his assault and paid the terrible price of one caught in the grip of the great Neptunous Rex! King of every creature in the sea!

After an evening of wogs, escaping from thier dungeons to reek havoc on the newly emerging pirate crew of the Barnacled lass, the witching hour was upon us. A faint calm came over the ship, and suddenly wogs started dropping like flies. Many barely made it to their racks when the smothering darkness of night carried them into a fitful sleep! He is Coming! He is Coming! Echo'd hollowly throughout the ship. And then blackness. . .

As the light of morning slowly broke across the eastern sky, commotion ran throughout the ship. Crusty Shellbacks ran through the ship, looking for those slimy polliwogs and gathering them together in Casualty Receiving. The details of what happened next are classified (I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill myself), but suffice it to say the slime that was the polliwog was revealed, and through a thorough cleansing process, the transformation to Shellback began!

Over 600 Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, Civilian Partners, and Foreign Military personnel participated in this time-honored Navy tradition! I've looked at hundreds of photos from the event, and the common theme is how big the smiles were on the faces of the wogs!

This was an unplanned part of our mission. In fact, one of the most frequently heard questions prior to June 5th was, "Isn't there any way we can go below the equator and have a Shellback initiation?" The answer had always been, "No! We can't." Then, COMFORT was asked to come to the aid of a Sailor who had some medical problems on one of our ships operating well to the South of us. In order to make that transfer happen, we had to steam much faster than originally planned and we arrived in the Tumaco area much earlier than originally planned. After picking up the ailing Sailor, we had some time to kill, so the request was made to FOURTH Fleet for permission to dip below the equator. That request was approved, and the next morning we crossed the equator!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Panama Canal! A Fitting Farewell!

Today we transited the 42 nautical miles of the Isthmus of Panama through the Panama Canal. My first time through the ditch! I think the most striking thing is to recognize that this is nearly 100 year old technology, built in 1913, and it is an amazing blend of moving parts that quickly raises huge ships nearly 90 feet above sea level and then ushers them across the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans.

The locks are 1,000 feet long, 110 feet wide, and raise the ship nearly 30 feet at a time. If my math is right, that means that over 3 Million cubic feet of water must flow into the lock to raise the ship. That happens in less than 10 minutes as the ship steadily rises in the lock.

The lock doors are huge and nestle into the lock walls when open. Operated by huge hydraulic cylinders, they quickly move into place to allow the lock to fill. These doors are nearly sixty feet wide and with the part of the doors below the water level, are about 80 feet tall. They are thick enough to have a wide catwalk along the tops of them to allow workers to pass from one side of the lock to the other across the closed doors.

At the top of the Gatun locks is Lake Gatun a picturesque quiet lake that spans the center of the isthmus. This is where we held a memorial service for our fallen shipmate, HMC Branum.

A number of people participated, sharing their experiences with the Chief, reading scripture, and singing songs. The service ended with the singing of the Navy Hymn, Eternal Father. It was a beautiful ceremony.

As the afternoon passed we traveled through the Mira Flores locks and out into the Pacific Ocean. Tonight we closed out our mission in Panama with our Panama Brief, and had our Colombia overview brief as we prepare for Tumaco, Colombia.

Tomorrow is our Strategic Pause: The chance for our crew to sleep in a little, recharge their batteries and get ready to do it all over again!