Friday, May 29, 2009

El Presidente! Panamanian President Visits COMFORT!

I mentioned in my last blog that we expected being pier side would help significantly with the amount of care that we would be able to deliver. Boy was I right! We were able to see over 5,000 patients during our first three days of patient care!

Well, on Wednesday, I got a chance to go ashore and tour our medical sites and our engineering sites. Both medical sites were humming like a well oiled machine! There were hundreds of patients, neatly organized into our various service lines, the Ministry of Health was well engaged and working side-by-side with our physicians, dentists, optometrists, physical therapists, and others providing some amazing help for the people. Unfortunately, my camera did it again, and all those pictures disappeared! It's called a Pentax Optio V20. If you know anyone at Pentax, tell them that I love their camera, except those times (once a week or so) when all the pictures for that day disappear! Maybe they'ld like to send me a replacement!

At the engineering sites, one team was remodeling a small health clinic, putting in new windows, installing a security fence and some new plumbing. At the other site, our team had replaced the perimeter fence around a baseball field, painted the dugouts, and resurfaced the infield.

Back on the ship, we are humming along in the Surgery department with a full schedule for the days ahead.

Today, the President and Vice President of Panama and the United States Ambassador came to visit the ship, speak to some of their countrymen receiving surgical care, got to watch through a window as our Orthopedic Surgeon worked on an ortho case, and then joined a number of the crew on the adjacent pier for a reception. A couple of our enlisted Corpsmen (HMC Eric Davenport and HM1 Hector Cano) are from Panama and we were able to introduce them to the President as well.

OK, time to run to a meeting to talk to our new Tiger Cruise Coordinator, ENS David Uhlman. Ensign Uhlman will be working all the coordination issues for our upcoming Tiger cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Norfolk. I'll include details on this blog as they become available!

Last minute news: My blog didn't publish while I was at our 1900 Confirmation brief, and that's a good thing! Turned out tonight, one of our Chiefs on the ship was promoted to Senior Chief! Chief Clay with our Security det was promoted to Senior Chief today by his OIC, LT Rupp. Here's a couple of pics!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Panama! The Fifth Inning!

Today we arrived in Colon Panama. This is the first time on this deployment that we have been able to be pierside! I'm sure that will help to manage many of our logistical issues. We will get ashore faster, be ashore longer, and hopefully, see more patients.

But, more importantly, this is the half-way point for my deployment!! It's all down-hill from here! Debbie, I'm on my way home!

The only problem is: H1N1, commonly known as the Swine Flu.

Today, we have no incidence of H1N1 onboard COMFORT, and we have instituted a number of steps to protect ourselves from infection. As of Cartagena, we started screening everyone who is coming aboard COMFORT for signs of the H1N1 virus.

It's not that we are afraid of getting the virus onboard, it's that we're afraid of what getting the virus onboard will mean to our ability to complete our mission.

We certainly have the capability to take care of anyone who should get sick onboard COMFORT, but there is so much hysteria about this virus, that it could impact our ability to continue to provide medical care to the people of Central and South America. That would be a shame.

So, tomorrow, we start screening surgical patients from Panama, we start treating patients at our outpatient facilities, our Engineers start building things, our Vets start veting things, and our Trainers start training people.

Hopefully in the next couple of days I'll get a chance to get ashore and see what's happening at our sites, but I'm confident that we are doing great things for the people of Panama!

So, would you like to see the USNS COMFORT live! Heading through the Panama canal? Well, this is your chance! On Wednesday, June 3, 2009, log onto or

to watch as COMFORT moves through the locks of the Panama Canal. Unfortunately, I don't know when to tell you to watch those sites, but they are live web cams of ships moving through the canal. We will be going through the Gatun locks first, followed a number of hours later by our transit through the Mira Flores locks.

I'll try to send a post on this site to let people know when we're entering the locks, however, only people who follow this blog will get the word! So, if you're not signed up to follow this blog, now is the time to do it!!

I don't have a lot of pictures of Panama yet, but here's what I have! We're parked on a pier with a lot of containers all around us!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Liberty Call!! Liberty Call!!

Nothing brings joy to the heart of a Sailor like those time-honored words: Liberty Call, Liberty Call! That is of course, unless your the Executive Officer!

"You mean we're going to turn 900 of these fun-deprived swabbies loose on a city with all kinds of 'fun' at your fingertips, and I'm the one who has to make sure they all behave and come back saftely? Are you nuts!?"

First of all, it's not all that easy getting 900 people ashore all at once when you need to check them out, provide them with briefing materials, make them sign some papers, log them into a spreadsheet, and then get them on a boat that will take them to shore! But after about three hours, we had most people gone.

Our first night in town, we had a "Mil to Mil" reception where members of our crew met with members of the Colombian military for a time of socialization and cultural sharing. That was fun and as always, it's nice to meet and greet with other military professionals. The Life Ring below was hand-painted on the COMFORT and given as a gift to the Colombian Military.

On Thursday, I got a chance to go check out one of the hotels where many of our people were staying, the Hilton in Cartagena. It was a beautiful hotel with very nice amenities, and as I watched our people unwind a little and enjoy themselves, I was tremendously proud of the way they carried themselves and monitored their behavior. Before I knew it, I even started to relax a little!

I had eaten lunch earlier in the day at the Hard Rock Cafe where I enjoyed my son's favorite meal: a great chicken sandwich! I had the opportunity to walk around the old walled city for ahile, and I had been able to do a little shopping in town for some souveniers. The best part of the whole day was that I was able to get a new battery for my watch! My watch had died our last day in Antigua Barbuda and it had driven me nuts for the better part of a week not having a working watch!

So now it was dinner time and it was time to enjoy some of the local delicasies. So we ate at the Hilton! I know, some of you are saying to yourself, how adventuresome! But it really was good local food. I had a seafood medley of Lobster, Shrimp, and Squid in a delicious local sauce with fried plantains and a nice glass of wine. OK, two glasses of wine.

I had been out all day with two of the Chiefs from our ROS crew (the guys who work on the ship with me all the time, not just for deployment): Senior Chief Clark and Chief Bone. We were joined early in the day by Chief Frith who is a member of the Public Affairs detachment on the ship, but she had to meet some other shipmates before dinner, so we dropped her off and went on. By the time we were done with dinner, we were all pretty tuckered out, so we headed back to the ship for an early evening.

On Friday, I got up bright and early, got all my gear together and went diving! The last time I was diving was in Italy, so I was really looking forward to this dive trip! And, I was not disappointed. There were six of us on the trip: Two Navy doctors (including a surgeon), an Emergency Medicine specialist from Project Hope, an Operating Room Nurse from the ship, and a Nurse from Latter Day Saints ministries who is serving on COMFORT, and me. In other words, just in case anything went wrong, I was covered!! So Debbie, I was thinkin' about you!

Our trip started with a 50 minute high-speed boat ride to a string of islands off the coast, probably about 30 miles from where the ship was anchored. When we arrived at the base camp, we were invited inside, given some fresh-squeezed fruit juice, asked to fill out some paperwork, and shown were we would be able to relax between dives and where we would be having lunch after our second dive.

Then we went back to the pier, put our gear together, got on the boat, and headed out to sea. It was only about five or ten minutes to our first dive site. Our dive was a drift dive, so three staff members from the dive center led the way with one in front, one in the middle, and one bringing up the rear. It was a large coral reef with the depth ranging from 30 to about 80 feet. The coral was very nice and while there weren't a lot of big fish, there were lots of little ones.

The water was beautifully warm and very clear with visibility ranging from 60 to over 100 feet. We drifted along exploring the reef for about 45 minutes and when we surfaced, the boat simply came to where we were and picked us up.

We went back to the dive center for some relaxing time and more fruit juice while the dive operator changed all of our tanks. It was nice to relax a little in the house, but before we new it, it was time to head out again!

This time, we dove on a reef wall, with the reef starting at about 20 feet from the surface, and the wall disappearing into oblivion about 100 feet below us. Again the corals were very nice, and we did see a couple of nice size fish, but most of them were aquarium size. Another great 45 minute dive and it was time to head in for lunch.

Lunch consisted of a whole fried Red Snapper, a wonderful rice dish, a small green salad, more fruit juice, ending with a candy desert. It was fabulous!

After lunch we had a chance to swim in their pool for a little bit, take a few pictures for posterity, and it was time to head home. Another 50 minute high-speed boat ride and we were back at the Mighty USNS COMFORT. Thirty minutes to drop off our gear, clean the sand out of our ears, and we were off to town for our last dinner ashore.

We went to a restaurant called "Olla Cartagena" or something like that. It had been recommended by one of our local drivers from the day before. Oh, My, Goodness! Was it ever good! I started by ordering Calamari for the table, and it came with a sauce that our waiter was sure to mention was hot. Now for those of you who know me, you know that "hot" is a relative term, and most of the time, what other people describe as hot, doesn't generally meet my definition of hot. Well this waiter was right! It was with out a doubt the hottest sauce I have ever been served in a restaurant. It was goooooood! The next course was some Lobster Bisque, with huge chunks of lobster meat, followed by Filet Mignon. It wasn't like you usually see Filet Mignon, it almost looked like the meat had been butterflied. It was not very thick, but did cover most of the plate. It was covered with some kind of sauce with mushrooms in it. I wasn't sure what to expect, because in the words of Pepper Lewis in The Cowboy Way, "I'm pretty particular about my steak! Just knock his horns off, wipe his nasty ass, and chunk it down here on my plate!" Well, I was not disappointed! It was probably one of the best steaks I have ever had. What a great dinner!

So now the tired, fed, relaxed, XO has to come back to the ship and find out if everyone made it back onboard. When we had been in Miami, we were pierside and liberty expired onboard at Midnight. It took until 3:15 in the morning to account for everybody and to make the report to the Ship's Master and the Commodore that everyone was present and accounted for.

In Cartagena, liberty expired last night at 9:00pm at the Boat Landing Zone. It's nearly a 30 minute boat ride from the BLZ to the ship. But even with that, I was given the word at 10:15 last night that all of our people were back aboard and accounted for! An awesome job by all the members of the Section 5 duty crew, and all the Departmental muster Petty Officers who did a great job mustering all hands in a timely fashion!

So I guess I don't need to worry about things in liberty ports any more! Well, we'll see!

So that was Cartagena. This morning we weighed anchor and set sail for Colon, Panama where we will arrive tomorrow morning. Colon should be exciting since this is the first port where we'll actually be pierside throughout the mission. No riding boats or helicopters to get ashore in the morning!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Farewell Antigua!

Well, we have finished the third inning! Antigua is behind us, Cartagena is ahead of us!

Antigua was a bit of surprise for us. We didn't really know what to expect as we headed there. First of all, the population of the island is only 90,000, compared to over 9 Million in each of our previous two countries. Would there be a demand for our services? Would there be surgical workload? Would we be allowed to perform surgeries? But, when all was said and done, everything worked out very well: We saw over 12,000 patients, we provided over 40,000 total healthcare services, and we did 161 surgeries. All in just 10 days ashore!

And, last week was Nurse Appreciation Week in both the United States and in Antigua Barbuda, and corresponds with the 101st anniversary of the establishment of the United States Navy Nurse Corps. So, of course, we had to have a cake!

This is a picture of our most senior nurse and our most junior nurse cutting the cake.

And Commander Marino set up what seemed like about 200 Nurse Appreciation activities both on the ship and in the local community with the local nursing association.

From the "Blessing of the Hands" of a new batch of local nurses, to a Subject Matter Expert Exchange that for some reason involved nurses running down a beach in a three-legged race! It was a never ending tribute to the pride and professionalism of Nurses everywhere! >

Well, we weighed anchor this morning about 1100 and put Antigua behind us. These pictures were taken on our forecastle (pronounced foc'sul), otherwise known as the "pointy end of the ship!" The big chain you can see in the first picture is our anchor chain. In the second picture, I was standing at the very tip of the bow, looking aft at the bridge of the ship.

Tomorrow, Sunday, we are taking a "Strategic Pause" to let our folks rest, relax, and recharge before we do a Safety Standdown on Monday and get ready to start the Fourth Inning, our liberty port in Cartagena, Colombia! Ah, I can already smell the coffee!!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Antigua & Barbuda Ashore

Well, I just spent an hour and a half uploading the pictures below to my blog! What a pain in the neck! Our internet connectivity is pretty limited. To put it in perspective, at home, I had Verizon FIOS Fiber Optic internet service that provided 20Mbps (20 Million bits per second) speed. On the ship, all 930 of us share a 1Mbps connection!

Anyway, the last two days have been pretty cool. On Friday, Big Al (the Current Operations Officer for PHIBRON SIX) and I went ashore. We started doing that in Haiti, and now we go ashore together early in the mission to enhance our situational awareness of operations on the ground. We wanted to get out a couple of days before that, but we kept geting delayed for one reason or another.

This picture is a shot from the bow, looking aft on the "Coral Ark," an amazingly expensive boat that puts along at less than five knots (just a little over five MPH). The beauty of the Coral Ark lies in her ability to take 175 of us ashore at one time! A huge advantage over the 30 people per trip that we can take in our Hospitality Boats (those are the small boats that the ship uses to do normal ship to shore movements).

On the trip over, we passed a number of pretty impressive little "cottages" perched on the hills surrounding the beaches. And speaking of beaches! Wow! They are beautiful!
In downtown St. Johns, we were allowed to use the city's Multicultural Center close in to the center of town. It is without a doubt the nicest place we have had to work so far on this deployment! The center was built by the Chineese a little over 10 years ago, but like a lot of things in Antigua, it is showing its age. There are fountains inside that don't work, but the commodes did and there was fresh running water.

As you can see from these first pictures, the town is nice! Lots of flowers and very friendly people.
Heres a great picture! That's me standing next to the tent we erect to provide shade for our patients, and that's a huge Royal Carribean cruise line ship in the background.

This is a much more prosperous country than either of our previous stops. It is a small place to live, about 90,000 people in all, and in the first three days of our time here, we've been able to treat over 3,000 of them, and we've been able to book about 150 surgeries.
Check out the inside of the Multiculteral Center! This was such a nice place to work! It was spacious, they had privacy screens set up partitioning the space into treatment rooms. In addition to the space you see here, our Optometry clinic was upstairs in this building and our Surgery Clinic was further down the hall in a whole other partitioned room. But the thing that really set this building over the top was the fact that it is AIR CONDITIONED!! And it had working toilets complete with toilet paper!! Out of habit, we ordered a bunch of porta-potties for our staff, but i doubt that they were ever needed even once!

Then Big Al and I headed over to the Mental Hospital (I was going to see if they had an extra room, but turns out they were full!) Our SeaBees are rehabilitating the Women's ward at the hospital. They're repairing the roof, putting in new windows and doors, doing a bit of plumbing work and electrical work. I'm sure it will look great when they are done!
So now we've moved out of the city to one of our outlying Medical/Dental sites. This is a place known as All Saints, the second largest town on the island. It is about the size of Apalachin! We are going to have a team there for three days probably doing about 400 - 500 visits per day.

So who are these goofballs? Well, that's me on the right, CAPT Hardy in the middle, and Big Al on the left. CAPT Hardy is a team leader for one of our two Advanced Coordination Element (ACE) teams. They arrived in Antigua about 10 days before we got here, and they did a phenominal job in schmoozin the people who needed to be schmoozed, working with the husbanding agent to put together all of the locally procured things that we would need: Chairs, Tables, Tents, Bottled Water, a bunch of vehicles, drivers, etc. They are the grease that makes this whole thing work!

Then we went back down town in time to catch the Air Force Band put on a two hour concert for not only the Antiguans, but to a lot of the visitors who had arrived on that big cruise ship! They are really good! I hope you get a chance to hear them play some time! They are tremendously busy. They typically have at least one concert, sometimes two, nearly every day we're in country
Ah, now there's a shot! Your's Truly during the flight today out to the island of Barbuda. Antigua is actually the Commonwealth of Antigua Barbuda. They are very different islands, but only located about 25 miles apart. About a 20 minute helecopter ride over some really pretty water!
So, me being the Captain, I got my pick of seat, and the best seat on the flight, at least I thought, was the rear, starboard seat facing forward. The doors would be open during the flight and I could lean out the door and get some really cool pictures. There's only one problem. I forgot about how windy that seat is. The people sitting next to me were able to open their goggles and sit comfortable in the seat. I had to spend most of my time holding my goggles in place because so much wind was blowing up under the goggles that I could hardly see! Plus, I have a bad head cold and the wind was making my nose run like a faucet! Oh well, it was still fun!
So this is the island of Barbuda. It is flat as a pancake. Their prime industry has been three tourist resorts that have all now closed and they don't know if any of them will be opening again. If you're looking to buy a Carribean resort, now might be a good time!
This is the one and only airstrip on the island. It is the narrowest runway I have ever landed on. it would be hard pressed for two cars to pass each other on the runway! We were dropped off here and had about 20 minutes on the ground while LCDR Welch got behind the stick for a little refresher flying. I guess it had been about six months since he flew last. So I got to spend a little time on the ground and got together with our Point of Contact on the island who has been a great help in helping us coordinate the visit to Barbuda.
This might give you an idea of what the beaches look like: All around the entire perimeter of the island, crystal white beaches!
And then it was time to go home, so we climbed in our multi-million dollar twin jet engine MH-60 helicopter, probably a product of Lockheed Martin in Owego, NY where my brother-in-law whips people to keep them working at an unfair wage! Great Job, John! Keep up the good work!

Now, if you look at the picture to the left, you will see the "Aft House" which is a section of the ship back near the smokestack with five rectangular windows across the front. Well, the last window to your right is my stateroom. That's where I am right now wrighting this thrilling account of the last couple of days.

So then as we were approaching the ship, I took a couple of shots of the Mighty COMFORT on our way back to the flight deck. I owe a big thank you to the crew of HSC-26, our helicopter detachment attached to the ship. I also owe them something else! They let me experience some of the capabilities of the helo as they did some hard yankin' and bankin'! It was like riding in a real cool rollercoaster. Nothing too over the top, but it made for an exciting trip!

Well, one more day is done. It is almost midnight, I've been working on this for well over two hours. I have a nasty cold and I took some medicine for it, so it I say something stupid in here tonight, give me a day or two to correct it!!

Five more days in Antigua then we are off to a much deserved liberty port in Cartagena, Colombia! I'm planning on staying on the ship each night. Since Debbie isn't able to be here with me, I don't feel like spending $160 for a room all to my lonesome. So, I'll go out for dinner, maybe go shopping for some good coffee, and then come back to the ship for the night. OK, enough for now!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Happy Birthday, CAPT Ware!!

So, we've been underway on this mission for about seven weeks. Captain Ware has been the CO of the COMFORT Medical Treatment Facility for almost a year! But no one seemed to know when his birthday was!

Then one day about a week ago, I hear from my wife, who has heard from CAPT Ware's wife, who asked us to wish the good Captain a Happy Birthday!

Well, we don't do anything small on the COMFORT! So tonight, following the 1900 Confirmation Brief, I took the microphone back from the Comodore and started to tell everyone present the importance of Operational Security. How we all need to work together to keep sensitive information out of the hands of the devious! I talked about the importance of protecting our personal identifying information, like our Social Security numbers, our credit card numbers, and, our dates of birth!

I told them that we can't be too careful! We never know who might compromise important information. I said, "So let's say that we were trying to keep the fact that we had a birthday coming up a secret, but someone at home, let the cat out of the bag! You never know what a devious person could do with that information!"

Then I asked CAPT Ware to join me up front, and a couple of our cooks brought up a great big beautiful birthday cake, and one of our Directors, CDR Mark Marino brought up the present we had prepared for the Captain.

I really think he was surprised, and everyone had a great time both pulling this off and in enjoying the celebration! Thanks for the "Heads-Up" Mrs. Ware!

Hello, Antigua!

That's pronounced, "An-tee-ga." And while I haven't been ashore yet, it surely looks like a beautiful place to visit from the Sea!

Today is our logistics setup day, so our helicopters are flying about 60 pallets of material ashore for the setup of our Main Medical Site at the Antiguan Multi-cultural center.

Tommorow we will start seeing patients there. I'm planning on going ashore tomorrow to check out our operations ashore. Hopefully I'll have better luck with my camera this time than I did in the Dominican Republic where I accidently deleted all my pictures while I was ashore!

It is about 6:30pm here right now. We have our daily confirmation brief for the upcoming day's operations at 7:00pm. Today is a special day onboard COMFORT. We have a contingent of Danish Surgeons and operating room staff onboard with us and today is the Dutch Liberation Day, when Allied troops liberated the Netherlands from the Nazi occupation of World War II. We're going to have a cake tonight to help them celebrate the event (it doesn't take much for us to come up with a reason to have a cake!). But the real surprise tonight will be for our CO, who I have been informed by the highest possible sources (his wife!) that today is his much-kept-secret birthday! Being the sneaky sort that we are, we have a little surprise celebration in store for him this evening. I'll take pictures and share them later!

Monday, May 4, 2009

All Work and No Play? Naaahhh!!

Today was what we call a "strategic pause." A chance to take a breath, let our hair down a little, and have a little fun!

Today was our first Steel Beach Picnic!

The Air Force Band was ROCKIN'!!

The Junior Enlisted Association was COOKIN'!!

The Sumo wrestlers were WRASLIN'!!

The folks in the beach chairs were CHILLIN'!!
And a good time was had by all!

Tomorrow morning around 6:00am we will be arriving in Antigua! Top of the 3rd!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

UNREP Enroute Antigua!

Dominica is behind us, Antigua before us! We left the Dominican Republic yesterday around noon and headed south enroute to Antigua Barbuda, a small island nation in the eastern Carribean.

Only one problem: We're thirsty! This morning we met up with the supply ship USNS ROBERT E. PEARY (T-AKE-5) to take on JP-5 fuel for our birds and lots of pallets of supplies that are coming to us.

An UNREP is an awesome display of ship-driving expertise and teamwork. You've got about 100,000 tons or more of ships practically within spitting distance of each other, moving along in perfect synchronization, while helicopters are buzzing over head, waves are crashing between the ships, pallets are being loaded and unloaded, fuel is being pumped, and the professionals that make it all happen make it look almost effortless!

We've been busy so far on this deployment. We've finished two of the seven countries we will visit: Haiti and Dominican Republic. So far on this deployment, we have treated about 17,000 patients and they have seen a Physician, Dentist or Optometrist over 18,400 times. We have performed 383 surgeries, many of which were life-altering, and we have provided a total of over 73,400 Health Care Services (these include medications, lab tests, x-rays, flouride treatments, etc.).

As our Mission Commander, Commodore Lineberry is fond of saying, we've finished two innings of a nine inning game (seven missions and two liberty ports!). We're proud of what we've accomplished, but we have a long way to go!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Thank You from the Dominican Republic!

Well, today is our last full day in the Dominican Republic. Tomorrow we weigh anchor enroute to the islands of Antigua and Barbuda. This afternoon we will have a closing ceremony where the leadership of the Dominican Republic, the leadership of our mission, and the leadership of the American Embassy will all say what a great thing it was for the COMFORT to be here. There will be lots of fanfare and celebration!

But yesterday, we got a note from Ms. Cathy Flynn, a Canadian who works in a little town called Puerto Plata, about a four hour drive from Santo Domingo, where the ship is. I want to share it with you. As we go through times of missing our families, and we all do, I think it helps to know that we're not just punching holes in the ocean. I hope that all of you at home are just as proud of all of your loved ones who are on this mission as I am. It truly is an honor to serve with each and every one of them! So anyway, here's the note, and a picture of the kids:

Dear Captain Ware and Crew,

Greetings from Puerto Plata! I am writing this email in an informal manner, I will write as a friend, because this is how I felt when I was on your ship last weekend.

I want to thank you, well, for quite a few things really. First and foremost, thank you for the wonderful Comfort Ship programme you are running and for helping our kids from Puerto Plata. Our 4-hour journey from Puerto Plata to Santo Domingo made our mission a bit trying, but with a lot of help from your end, it went smoother than expected. I’m sure you hear all the time that you change the lives of children that would never have the opportunity for surgery due to difficult financial reasons. This is so true with our kids. Without you all their surgery would NEVER have happened. I also had hands on experience with the families of each of our kids, trying to relate messages back and forth from the ship to the families of our patients. I hope you all realize the domino effect you have on the entire family. You are all like angels to them. All the families wanted me to send you all a big Dominican GRACIAS.

Thank you to your crew of course. Which I will from here on in, refer to as your team, because this is what I definitely witnessed on your boat. Not staff, but an incredible team always working together, always willing and able to help us during our stay. No matter where we went on your ship, someone always passed us by, said hello and asked us how we were, or just gave us a great big smile. Getting lost was part of our daily routine, but when we asked one of your team how to point us in a certain direction, we found ourselves constantly with a personal escort instead!

When we first arrived at the sports complex, we were met by Lt. Morlock, and Dr. Donahue who bent over backwards for us to be able to have our kids all sent over to the ship that day, instead of the next day as planned. They also worked very hard trying to schedule their surgeries around our Puerto Plata schedule. Then it was back to Puerto Plata for me where I received emails from Lt. Morlock and Lt. Marrs to keep me posted, and to arrange for myself and my translators to return to the boat that weekend. So many from the team helped us, HM1 Jeffrey Glick who took care of us making sure we were comfortable at the sports centre, the helicopter team, Javier that showed us around the ship, all the doctors and nurses that worked their miracles, and Lt. Battcock that explained to us the ins and outs of the US Navy. Even Lt. Osmond with his eye exams for all of us, and his witty conversation about Cousin Donny!

As I was walking down the corridors of your ship I found myself wanting to reach out and hug each and everyone of your team, from the doctors to the nurses, down to the dishwashers, just to remind them that we do appreciate what they do day in and day out. Everyone was super friendly and so attentive. It has been a long time since I have been around such contagious positive energy. Without each and every one of your team our kid’s lives would have been hopeless. You gave our kids a new outlook, and a new beginning. Not to be better than, but just to be like other kids, that’s all they really want. Thank you all for being so selfless, and so kind.

My daughter, Ally, was with me on the ship, she is 6 years old. So many of you stopped to chat with her, which made her feel even more important than she already felt on board. Afterwards, each time, one of you looked at me and told me how much you missed your own children. As a mother, I finally realized the sacrifice you all make being away from your families. If it is any consolation at all, even though you are missing yours, know that we will be forever grateful for your time spent with us.

So I write this as the ‘little guy’ who’s motto is, “You don’t have to change the world, just change a life”, and that you all have helped me to do! Thank you just doesn’t seem like enough to say really. Just know that we truly appreciate everything you have done to change the lives of our kids here in Puerto Plata.

Although I am Canadian, I find the need to say……….GOD BLESS AMERICA!!!!!!

With much love and gratitude,

Cathy Flynn

Thank you Cathy, and may God bless you and all your work with the people of the Dominican Republic!