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. . .