Sunday, March 29, 2009


What a week! Non-Stop! We've loaded hundreds of pallets of supplies and gifts from various organizations for us to take on our mission. We've exercised our daily rhythm for the deployment. We've solved lots of problems and found even more!

Seems like lots of people want to come see the worlds finest Hospital Ship! We've had lots of tours. The pictures here were a tour with members of the Joint Forces Command Surgeon's Office. Speaking of which, I don't think I've really shared with our readers what this ship is like: The Mighty USNS COMFORT. To put her in perspective, she's 12 feet longer, 14 feet wider, and 17,000 tons heavier than the Titanic.

We are the fourth largest shock-trauma hospital in the United States. We have 50 casualty receiving beds (equivalent to a shock-trauma ER), 12 Operating Rooms, 20 Post Anesthesia Care Unit beds, 80 Intensive Care Beds, 440 Moderate Care beds, and 440 Minimal Care beds. Four digital X-ray suites, one CT Scanner, a fully capable Laboratory, a blood bank capable of carrying 5,000 units of fresh and frozen blood, an extensive Pharmacy, Physical Therapy, Bio-Medical Repair, a Galley (Food Service Department) that can produce 7,500 meals per day, a Laundry, an O2/N2 plant that produces all our oxygen needs, the ability to make 300,000 gallons/day of fresh water from sea water, and we can go anywhere in the world to bring this care where it's needed!

I was able to take some of our staff to the USS GEORGE H. W. BUSH tied up across the pier from us. We had lunch with the Senior Medical Officer (CAPT Lee Mandel, MC, USN) and got a great tour of the ship. From the Bridge, we were able to see out across the flight deck and get an eagle-eyes view of the Mighty USNS COMFORT!! It must be exciting being on the BUSH and being able to look over at the COMFORT !!

I had to run home this weekend to take my car back up to Maryland and Debbie has come back with me to see us off! Only a few days left till the fun really begins!!

A few more days, and we're on our way! Ready, Set, . . .

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Monday was our first day exercising our "Battle Rhythm." A Battle Rhythm is the schedule of events that takes place each day to accomplish our mission. It includes meetings to evaluate today's environment that we're working in; meetings to lock in all the logistics for the next day's events; meetings to evaluate the data that is coming to us for down-stream countries that we will be visiting in the future; meetings to plan for the next day's operations; evaluation of today's operations and any lessons learned to improve tomorrow's performance.

The day starts with reveille at 6:00am and basically runs till Taps at 10:00pm. Except for those people who will be working all night to crunch the numbers, make the steam, run the generators, etc. And for those people going ashore the next day, their day will start at 4:30am, and as the sun crosses the horizon in the morning, they will be loading boats and helicopters to begin the mad dash that will be that day's mission.

As we sit here in Norfolk, we're not launching boats at 4:30am, but our days are full, non-stop, and a real pre-cursor to what's ahead. So last night, as the day wound down, a number of our folks headed to the bowling alley to unwind, throw a few balls down the lanes, and get ready for the days ahead.

Of particular note was CDR Mark Marino. A man committed to the Zen of Bowling.

(Be the ball!)



And then there's the Fun Boss.

A graduate of Pennsylvania State University.

A man dedicated to the concept of "Taking Fun Seriously."

A man who proposed "Keg and Eggs" for Easter. (I'm thinkin', maybe not!).

Here's a guy whose job it is to insure we have fun! How cool is that! If he does his job, we have fun! If not, he get's fired! Makes me feel like the Rich and Famous!

Bottom line is we have a great crew, who works hard, and when the day is done, they can let their hair down a little (OK, tough to do with a crew cut!), and have a good time together.

Less than a week before we leave Norfolk!

Friday, March 20, 2009

One Week Down! 19 Weeks to Go!

Well, we've finished our first week in Norfolk! I can't say it's been the most pleasurable week of my life, but it has gone fast!

Our Mission Commander, Commodore Lineberry, shifted his flag from his headquarters on Little Creek Amphibious Base to onboard the USNS Comfort.

Almost as soon as he and his staff checked aboard, our computer network went down. Couldn't have happened at a better time. Here we are trying to tie down a million loose ends, everything from getting our crew onboard (even getting them all identified!), getting our supplies here, coordinating the delivery of hundreds of pallets of donated Gifts-in-Kind, finalizing arrangements for our Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) partners, foreign national partners and arrangements with our host nations. Dr. Tim Donahue, our Director of Surgical Services, and CDR Mark Marino, our Senior Nurse Executive had to leave the ship and use their Blackberry's to get work done! (Or maybe they're texting each other, it's hard to tell!).

Our Commanding Officer and Commodore Lineberry went to Florida this week to Brief the NAVSOUTH Commander, RADM Kernan on our preparations to begin our mission. That left me as the Acting CO while Captain Ware was gone. Ah! It's good to be King!

I went out for pizza with several of our folks and took some nice shots of the Mighty USNS COMFORT sitting next to the Mighty USS GEORGE H. W. BUSH. While the BUSH is a little bigger than us, we certainly hold our own next to her!

The week came to a great end when I was informed by our Information Technology team that our network was up! The firewall was properly configured and we were back in business!! What a great way to end the week!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Anchors Aweigh!

"Anchors Aweigh my boys! Anchors Aweigh!
Farewell to college joys we sail at break of day-ay-ay-ay!
Through our last night ashore, drink to the foam!
Until we meet again, here's wishing you a happy voyage home!"

If a bad day at sea is better than a great day ashore, what is a great day at sea worth?

We had a great sail from Baltimore to Norfolk yesterday. We shifted colors at 4:00am and was well on our way down the bay at daybreak!

It was early in the morning as we sailed past the Naval Academy on our way down the Chesapeake Bay. The sky was gray, the bay was calm and the temperature was in the low 30's.

I went down to our Hospital Admin department to see how things were going. Over the previous couple of days we had received the first 200 or our "Full Operating Status" crew and Admin was hard at work making sure everyone was properly checked in and accounted for.

Captain Anderson, our Director of Medical Services came by and announced that it was snowing outside! Me and snow? You know I had to go!

After I went outside to check out the snow, I swung by the bridge to see how things were progressing up there. Our ship is operated by a crew of professional civilian mariners. These men and women are civilian employees of the Navy who operate many of our supply ships, oilers, ammunition ships, and in our case, our Hospital ships. We have 69 Mariners aboard. They drive the ship, make the steam, make the water, make the electricity, process our sewage, dispose of our trash, etc. We may be a great hospital, but if you don't have steam, water, electricity or a toilet, your pretty much up the creek!

We had just past the mouth of the Potomac river. We were right on course, ahead of schedule!

Several hours later we approached Pier 14 at Naval Station Norfolk. With the help of some tugs, our ship's Master, Captain Tom Finger, expertly spun this 894 foot long ship on a dime and backed us into the South side of the pier. I was up in my stateroom as we started the turn and to my surprise, we had a neighbor on the North side of our Pier: The Mighty USS GEORGE H. W. BUSH (CVN 77). A good friend of mine is the Senior Medical Officer onboard BUSH! I called his cell phone and let him know we were in town! Next week, he and his folks will come tour the COMFORT and our folks will get a chance to tour the newest aircraft carrier in the fleet!

At about 8:00pm, all the work was done, the watchbill was posted, the crew was ready, and I announced "Liberty Call!" Thus ended our first day at sea!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

One Week To Go!

Time is getting short! The Final Planning Conference is over! Our 176 guests have gone their separate ways, and we are counting down the final days to our deployment!

Tomorrow starts the first day of our activation process. We will be having approximately 100 people check aboard tomorrow. These are our non-medical support staff: Electronics technicians, Information Systems Technicians, Culinary Specialists, Ship's Servicement, Postal Clerks, etc. We will welcome them aboard, get them checked in, assign them berthing and get them started to work. Tomorrow our Communications Center starts 24 hour/7 days a week operations. Some of our crew will start sleeping on the ship starting tomorrow night.

This is exciting. For the last two years, the ship has been in what's called Reduced Operating Status. While in ROS, the crew consists of only 60 active duty and 18 civilian mariners. We keep things running and plan for the day that we're activated and bring in the other 90% of our crew. Well, tomorrow starts that process! By tomorrow night we'll be nearly 200 strong, and by the time we deploy on Friday, we'll have over 300 people aboard. The rest of our crew will join us in Norfolk and by the time April 1st rolls around and we start our mission, we will have over 850 people aboard representing all of our services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Public Health Service, Coast Guard), representatives from about five non-governmental organizations (Project Hope, UCSD Pre-Dental Society, Operation Smile, FACE, and Latter-Day Saints Ministries), and people from five other nations who are joining us on this mission (Canada, Netherlands, Great Brittan, France, Chile).

Tomorrow's a big day! Let the fun begin!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Final Planning Conference

Today started our Final Planning Conference for the upcoming Continuing Promise-'09 mission.

We have at last count 115 planners and operators joining us for a three day push to put the final touches on our mission plan. This is the culmination of over six months of planning that has led us from a concept to a "ready to execute" plan. We have representatives from all seven countries, Canadians, Frenchmen, and others. We have Army, Navy, Air Force, Public Health Service, and representatives from most of the Non-Governmental Organizations who will be joining us on the mission (Project Hope, Operation Smile, University of California at San Diego, LDS Ministries, etc.) We are quite the eclectic group!

COMFORT is still in the throws of our yard period, so in addition to welcoming our guests, we are also loading lube oil and aviation fuel today! The smoking lamp is out!

My crew has been outstanding in getting us ready for this event: The dirt and grime of three months in a yard period was scrubbed away the drivers were assigned, the registration desk was manned, elevator operators, tour guides, greeters, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer all showed up at 0600 this morning with bright smiling faces ready to show off our ship and to take care of our guests!

It is such an honor to be associated with such a great crew and with such an important mission! Only about a week before we shove off from Baltimore! This is where it gets fun!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Prepare to Get Underway!

We are now two weeks from the beginning of our mission: Continuing Promise '09! A nearly five month long mission for the USNS COMFORT (T-AH 20) and her crew to Central and South America to provide humanitarian assistance in the form of medical care, surgical care, engineering projects, bio-medical equipment repair, education and training and numerous other ways to show that America cares.

Our mission will be to seven countries: Haiti, Dominican Republic, Antigua, Panama, Columbia, El Salvador and Nicaragua. We sail from Baltimore in mid-March headed for Norfolk, VA, where we will finish our outfitting and welcome aboard much of the crew who will join us in this challenge. On April 1, 2009, we will sail from Norfolk enroute to Haiti. 120 days later, on July 31, 2009, we will return to Norfolk to off-load remaining supplies and equipment and on or about August 5th, we will set sail for Baltimor and return to our berth.

Today we are finishing the final planning for the Final Planning Conference that is being hosted onboard the USNS COMFORT. God also saw fit to bless Baltimore with its first snow storm of the year! I had five inches of snow on my car this morning and it's still coming down! Oh well, Semper Gumbi, "Always Flexible!"

The ship is still under construction and we're about to have 100+ visitors including several Flag Officers and senior civilian officials, so today will no doubt be a busy one! So enough prattling on! Back to work!