Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Day in the OR!

Wow, was today a blast! Thirty years ago next month, I graduated from Operating Room Technician School in Bethesda Maryland and started a nearly five year run as an OR Tech. 25 years, four months ago, I scrubed my last case as I headed off to do other things in my Navy career. Today, that dry spell ended! I got to scrub in on two cases today: An umbilical hernia repair, and a hydrocele. The first case, I was scrubed in with one of the ship's Surgical Techs (they changed the name a few years back, now they're called Surgical Techs instead of OR Techs). But the second case, I was on my own!

Lot's of people here on the ship have asked me if it was like "riding a bike." I guess it was kind of like riding a bike, but it will take a while to not be wobbly on it! Hopefully I'll get a chance to do this some more in the days ahead!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Some Great Pics!

Our Public Affairs Office has put together some fantastic composit pictures of our work so far in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The picture above is one of those.

Today was a great day! For the first time on this mission, I got a chance to get down to the OR and watch as some of our amazingly talented surgeons were doing some amazing surgeries! This picture is of a Cleft Pallet and Lip repair. I came in at almost the end and the results were amazing!
I viewed several surgeries and it brought back a lot of memories! For those of you who don't know, I was a Surgery Technician back in the late 1970s to the end of 1983. Things have changed a lot since then, but a lot of things are the same. While I didn't remember the names of all the instruments, many of them were very familiar. I plan to spend more time in the OR and hopefully will get a chance to scrub in again and assist directly with some of our surgical care.

Then there's the Big Tooth! Can you imagine how much fun it must be to wear this costume in 90+ degree heat for an hour or so? I have all the respect in the world for the folks who are bringing this educational opportunity to all these kids!

And speaking of educational opportunities, here is one of our Project Hope Nurse Educators teaching a class to a packed classroom in Santo Domingo! These folks are providing exceptional training to hundreds of our Host Nation medical professionals.

And for you Hillary fans: The Secretary of State swung by for a quick visit while we were in Haiti. She didn't make it to the ship, but she did tour one of our Medical Sites. That's our Mission Commander, Commodore Lineberry, showing her through the site.

A "High Five" is an appropriate Thank You to the hundreds of Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, Public Health Officers, Foreign Nation Military, and Civilian Volunteers that are doing so much for so many!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Ashore in the Dominican Republic!

Well, yesterday was not my day when it comes to this blog!

First, I went ashore and took lots of really great pictures of our various medical sites and activities. Then, I somehow deleted the whole folder, so all those pictures were lost.

Then last night, I wrote a long blog entry which I thought was published, but when I went into the blog today, it wasn't there!

Well, today is a new day. We are working hard in the Dominican Republic. We have over 200 people ashore each day doing everything from treating patients (human and animal), to teaching lectures, to fixing broken equipment, to building a new classroom for a school. Everyone is doing a great job!

Today our first rotation of Army reservists takes place. We have about 20 folks heading out and about 32 coming in. And in less than a week from now we will be swapping out about 100 others. This is a tough process and takes a lot of coordination. Most of that effort falls on our Director for Administration and her staff. LCDR Wooten and HMC Branum have spent hundreds of hours planning and coordinating this event!

Well, I have to get back to work!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hello, Dom Rep!

I woke up this morning and we were about to anchor off of Santo Domingo on the Southern side of the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispanola with Haiti, but the two countries are about as different as night and day. In Haiti, the hills were bare, trash was burning, and the sea was full of debris floating by at all levels of the water column. Here in Dom Rep, the water is clean, the hills are green, and there is a modern city skyline in front of us!

But, we're not anchored in between two large peninsulas like we were in Haiti, so this afternoon, the ocean swells played havoc with our waterside platform!

Today was our setup day and we had about 30 people ashore setting up our two medical sites. Tomorrow we storm the beaches with about 240 of our folks going ashore to do great things!

Today also started our first rotation of personnel. During this deployment, we are having nearly 900 people come and go in roughly 30 day increments. This is the first time we've ever tried this, and this week is the first rotation. We already had two people leave tonight and over the next 10 days, we will say goodbye to about 150 of our crew, and say hello to another 150 who are joining us. I'll have to give my now famous "nothing goes down the toilet unless it comes out of your body or off a roll of toilet paper!" speach.

Well, it's been a long day and tomorrow will be here way too fast, so it's time for me to sign off and get to bed! I appreciate hearing from those of you who have been commenting on the blog! Keep it up! The only problem is that I can't seem to figure out how to click on something to reply back to you. So, feel free to send me your comments to my e-mail address: jdlarnerd@comfort.navy.mil.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Haiti in the Rearview Mirror!

At about 4:30pm today we "shifted colors" and got underway headed out of Haiti. This has been an amazing experience: Being part of an awesome team, doing something that really changes lives, learning skills that enhance our ability to respond to disasters wherever they occur, and having a chance to share that with family and friends back home. I never even kept a journal before, let alone a blog!

So here's what we did: We had over 7,000 patient encounters providing over 30,000 healthcare services. We operated on 158 children and adults and had 4400 education encounters. These included thousands of Dental visits, Optometry, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Cardiology, Dermatology, Physical Therapy, Women's Health, Orthopedics, General Surgery, Pediatric General Surgery, Pediatric Orthopedics, Urology, Opthalmology, Plastic surgery, and no doubt others I can't remember off the top of my head. We built a new pharmacy for the General Hospital and rehabilitated the floor in a staff dormatory. Our Vets treated thousands of animals and our Bio-Med Equipment repair technicians repaired hundreds of pieces of medical equipment. We entertained 336 visitors onboard the ship, including surgeons and anesthesiology residents who worked side-by-side with our surgeons. We delivered 350 pallets of material for the Haitian people including 1.4 Million meals provided by Project Handclasp and Food for the Poor. Our U.S. Air Force Band played numerous concerts and taught introduction to musical instruments to a school full of children. Our Civilian Mariners and Boat Detachment provided training on small engine repair and inventory management for the Haitian Coast Guard. Our Chaplain led two projects that rehabilitated two parks and painted a new Surgery Center.

It has been such an honor to serve with every person on this ship! Most of us are working 14-16 hour days with many people working longer than that. Tomorrow I'm able to let most of our team sleep in a little: No boats getting underway to 5:45am! One day of rest, then back at it!

Well, I have to head down for our post-Haiti brief. Tonight we will wrap up Haiti. We're already on our way to the Dominican Republic.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Bye! Bye! Haiti

We just finished our last Confirmation brief for Haiti. A confirmation brief is a description of the plan for the following day, as well as an opportunity to thank people who have made particular contributions to the mission. It was quite a night! We heard the plan for tomorrow's retrograde from Haiti (moving all our stuff back aboard the ship). We also heard some comments from Mama V, an American missionary who has been working in Haiti for the last nine years, building orphanages, medical clinics, and now a new surgery center.

We also heard from two of our Haitian partner surgeons who have been onboard working with our surgeons to care for the people of Haiti.

It's been a long day, but I did want to jot down some thoughts before I hit the rack.

Haiti has been such an eye opener! Here is a people, who for no fault of their own live in country about the size of Maine, with 9.2 Million people crammed in. I've seen my share of people in America, standing around piles of filth, begging for something. But I've never seen such a population where for an entire day, I was looking, I couldn't find a single person who was smoking, neither did I find anyone consuming alcohol. It was almost sureal. You could tell that the people were in great need, but their clothing was for the most part appropriate and clean. Mothers caring for their children to the best that they could. Men doing whatever they could to earn a living. They are a beautiful people.

Today, nine artists came aboard to sell their wares on the ship. I bought two things: A ceramic statuette of a mother holding her child, and a painting. I wanted a painting that would remind me of Haiti whenever I saw it. It was hard. Most of the paintings were beautiful buildings on tree lined, spotless streets. Exactly the antithesis of Haiti so that wasn't right. And then I found my painting: It is a beautiful abstract, painted with the vibrant colors of the carribean, and at the same time, capturing the death of Christ on the cross. The vibrance of life juxtaposed against the blackness of death.

I was going to title this entry "Haiti By Ship" and I was going to show you pictures of Master Chief Lohner sitting on the floor playing with the little kids. But I somehow deleted these great shots from my camera. Oh well, I did get a couple of pictures of kids and patients onboard the ship, and I'll upload those pictures when I get a chance.

OK, I can no longer keep my eyes open. I'll add pictures tomorrow. Good Night!!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Haiti from the Air

Below is some of the pictures I took the other day from the air of Haiti. Haiti is one of the most densly populated countries in the world wiht over 800 people per square mile over the entire country. Here is Port-au-Prince, the density is many times that rate! There are people everywhere! Traffic is unbelievable with everyone pretty much driving wherever they can!

Well, I'm headed out to the flight deck for our first Cinema at Sea! Tonight we're watching "Taken" shown against the side of our Helo Shelter! Time to pop up some popcorn and head out to the movies!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Haiti Ashore

Well I finally made it ashore in Haiti! I left COMFORT by helicopter at about 6:30am and we flew over our various sites before setting down at the Main Port HLZ (Helicopter Landing Zone). From there we traveled to the General Hospital to look at two engineering projects the SeaBees have been working as well as two education sites.

Following the visit to General Hospital, we went to the Cite Soleil Medical Site. At Cite Soleil I learned that CDR Vanscoy's family reads this blog, so here is a picture of the good Commander on site at Cite Soleil!

From Cite Soleil we traveled by boat to the other side of Port Au Prince to the Medical site at the Haitian Coast Guard base. From there we returned by boat to the COMFORT! Along the way, we circled the Coast Guard cutter THETIS who was here delivering Humanitarian supplies to the people of Haiti. Helecopters from COMFORT ferried the supplies ashore.

I will hopefully get a chance to get ashore earlier in each site that we visit. The trip today was very important to get an awareness of what our folks were facing ashore. Every one of our 150 people who go ashore each day do an awesome job in very difficult conditions. While we can't even begin to touch the need here in Haiti, for those several thousand who will receive care, they are getting it from true professionals who truly care for the people of Haiti!

Monday, April 13, 2009


Ah what a great day in the kitchen! I got to serve dinner tonight to probably 500 of my closest friends! Meatloaf and Chicken Cachitore (sp?). It was me, the Commodore's Chief of Staff, and my boss, CAPT Ware serving food; and the Commodore was working in the scullery doin' the dishes! It was fun, but what I was doing was just a small part of what our Food Service Assistants do every day, that it really doesn't compare at all.

It was a mental release though! Every day I am dealing with all kinds of issues that make me have to think. It was fun for a little while to just ask, "Meatloar or Chicken? Noodles or mashed potatoes? Pease or squash? Do you want gravy on those potatoes?" I was working the line for about an hour and forty-five minutes, but it went flying by! I'm sure I'll do it again while we're out. We have encouraged all of our NOG's (Naturally Occuring Groups) to volunteer to spend some time in the galley while we're on deployment. So in addition to being part of the Command Leadership Team, I'm also a member of the O-6 NOG (Captain's on board), a member of the MSC NOG (Medical Service Corps Officers), a member of the ROS NOG (Reduced Operating Status group), and I'm a member of the Egg NOG. Actually, I just made that last one up!

Oh well, it's almost 10:00pm and my helo is taking off at 6:00am tomorrow to fly me over to the sites ashore so that I can see for myself what's happening. We've seen about 2,000 patients so far and have provided over 7,000 services. We've performed roughly 30 surgeries so far and will do another 120 or so before we leave. We did our first clef-lip repair today as well as our first club-foot repair. We are pinning at least two broken femurs (the thigh bone) which will allow the two patients to walk again.

Anyway, doing lots of neat things! I've got to get to bed!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

What a beautiful day today was in Haiti! The morning started out warm with beautiful blue skys! We sent our first boats ashore today at 5:45am, but for those who remained onboard, we celebrated Easter with a sunrise worship service on our flight deck. Normally, that wouldn't have been possible, because the helicopters start flight operations about 5:30am and no one is allowed on the flight deck once flight quarters is set.

But last night, the Air Detachment announced that they were going to be doing some maintenance on their birds today and that there wouldn't be any flight ops. So we quickly decided to hold a service on the flight deck instead of up on the bow where we would have battled the noise from large air intakes for the ship. It was a beautiful service!

I am including a few pictures of our shore operations from Saturday. I was planning on going ashore today, but that needed to be rescheduled for Tuesday, so these aren't pictures I took.

I've got to run if I'm going to get any dinner tonight! Happy Easter to you all!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Corpsman, Up!

Corpsman, Up! A phrase that has been synonymous with the engagement of the Navy Medical Department in eleviating suffering for many years. The Navy Hospital Corpsman is the medic who accompanies our Marines in the field and provides the first level of medical care to the sick and injured.

Yesterday, Navy Medicine engaged the medical needs of the people of Haiti!

We had approximately 150 people ashore. They finished setting up our two Medical/Dental sites, our Surgical Screening site, and a Professional Education site. Patient care started as soon as they were set up, and hundreds of people were served.

Our Surgical Screening site scheduled the first 72 patients for surgery on COMFORT and our first patient arrived onboard for care. Her name is Neritza Dor, a 15 month old little girl. Her mom led the way up the brow from our newly installed waterside platform. We're not quite sure how this platform will work when we're anchored somewhere where we have heavy seas, but for now, it is working great!

Meanwhile, ashore, one of our OR Nurses, Ensign Kathleen Kostka gives a "High-Five" to one of the Haitian children at the site.

I will be going ashore tomorrow to see first-hand how things are going. I'll take pictures!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Arrival in Haiti

We dropped anchor off the coast of Port Au Prince, Haiti at about 7:00am ths morning. There were fishing boats in the water as the coastline appeared through the mist.

Our first boat will go ashore in about 10 minutes as we begin our 10 day stay in Haiti. Today is a Logistics prep day. We will be moving lots of pallets of equipment and supplies ashore and will be setting up two Medical sites: One onboard the Haitian Coast Guard base at Killick, and one in the City Soliel section of Port Au Prince. Additionally, we already have SeaBees ashore renovating a dormatory at the General Hospital. Over the next few days we will have two teams of Bio-medical Repair people fixing broken medical equipment, Veterinarians treating livestock and other animals. We will have other volunteers painting and fixing up several projects around the city, and educators providing professional nursing and medical education to local health care providers.

We will also be running two outpatient medical sites, complete with optometry and dental services as well as Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Women's Health, etc. Our surgeons will start screening patients for the Operating Room and we will start our first surgies on Saturday morning.

Anyway, it's about to get busy! Got to go!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

First Stop: Miami!!

Three days underway and we pulled into the beautiful Port of Miami, Florida!

We were met by a fire boat who trumpeted our arrival with a water display. There were a couple of big cruise liners in port as we came in. People were on deck waiving at us as we past by. It was kind of funny: All those people paying all that money to have everything done for them, and here we are getting paid all this money to do everything for ourselves! I have a new slogan for the Navy: Mirror Image Cruises!

Miami has been very nice and very hectic. Yesterday we had about 325 visitors aboard for tours and about 100 people check-in for the mission. We had a VIP luncheon with five Flag Officers in attendance (Army and Air Force Generals), CEO's from several Non-Governmental Organizations. Just when we thought it was all going to settle down, we got the Miami-Dade County Commissioner onboard. By the time 6:00pm came around, I was wooped.

I went to dinner with our Chaplain, CDR Dave Oravec and our Director of Ancillary Services, CAPT Christine Howe. We ate at this great restaurant in Miami Beach called Joe's Stone Crabs. I should have known this was going to be expensive when everyone serving tables in the restaurant were wearing tuxedos. Not 20 year old, ratty looking tuxedos with yellow shirts, but nice, crisp looking tuxedos with spotless white shirts, studs, and perfectly tied bow ties.
I also knew it was popular because our wait for a table was one and a half hours! So we wandered around the area for awhile and found this nice Greek restaurant where we were able to sit down and blow the froth off a couple while we were waiting. It really had a great atmosphere with kids dancing on the tables, and Greek music playing. Made me think I was in My Big Fat Greek Wedding!


Well, this morning we set sail and put Miami to our stern as we head Southeast toward Haiti. Everyone is excited to get there and to start providing medical care! Our entire first phase crew is aboard: 906 people set sail today!

The Helos are aboard, our crew is assembled, the ship is steaming at full speed, and we're ready to hit the ground running!

Saturday, April 4, 2009


And we're off!!! Continuing Promise 2009 is underway!!

We left Naval Station Norfolk at about 11:00am on Wednesday, April 1, 2009 and headed out into the Atlantic ocean, bound for Miami, Florida!

I said goodbye to the love of my life that morning on the pier. It is so hard to say good-bye! Debbie dropped me off in the morning and headed home to Maryland to help our daughter, Shannon, start painting the house they purchased on Tuesday! Congratulations Shannon on your new home! It will be a great place for Trey and Izzy to grow up, and I'm so glad that Debbie was there to help you get ready for the big move!

Debbie knew that she needed to get right on the road early in the morning to make it home in time to help Shannon, but it was so great that she was able to come down here with me for three nights before I got underway! And a big Thank You goes out to Justin and Shannon King for watching Ruffy for us while Deb was in Virginia!

There weren't a lot of people on the pier to say good-bye to us, but Debbie arranged for some dear friends of ours from the Tidewater area to be there to wish me well! Thank you Beth and kids for making my send-off very special! And thank you Debbie for making it all happen!

As we headed out to sea, we passed over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, effectively marking the boundry between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Then comes the obligatory "Abandon Ship" drill, where we all pretend we're screaming and gather on the flight deck, kind of like the last part in Titanic, just before the ship sank! This picture is of me, my boss (CAPT Ware), the mission commander, Commodore Lineberry, and his Chief of Staff, CDR Scott Battle.

Then it came time to prepare for the arrival of our helicopters. Shown in this picture is the flight-deck crew preparing for the arrival of our two MH-60 helicopters from HSC-26 out of Norfolk, VA. The detachment aboard USNS COMFORT have created their own special patch to signify this deployment. They are called "The Witchdoctors of USNS COMFORT" I'll try to get a picture of their patch in the days ahead!

April 1st is the birthday of the Chief Petty Officer community. We had a celebration with an AWESOME cake, baked especially for the occasion by our Culinary Specialists aboard! 116 years of tradition! Hammered into place, one nail at a time by our Command Master Chief, who was there from the beginning!

I thought our day getting underway was a long one, but that was only a precursor to what lie ahead! Typically my day starts at 6:00am when reville is sounded throughout the ship: "Reville, Reville, All Hands Turn To." It typically ends about an hour after Taps (10:00pm) and it's usually about 11:30pm by the time I hit the rack.

As long as those days are, it seems like they fly by. Before I even know it, it's lunchtime. Dinner is here before I know it, and one of the biggest challenges I find is in getting to evening "Chow" before the galley closes! I'm afraid I'm going to whither away to nothing! (Probably won't happen on this cruise!)

Oh well, CP-09 has begun and that means every day in is one day closer to the end! Here's a picture that shows some of the 550 pallets of donated material we are taking with us! Everyplace that we can stick pallets inside is full, so the Mariners along with our Marine Load Master, put a hundred or so pallets on the storeroom roof!

We're headed to Miami first! Followed by Haiti, Dominican Republic, Antigua Barbuda, Columbia, Panama, El Salvador, and Nicaragua!