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!

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