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Comfort strengthens partnership following successful medical mission

Navy Naval Aircrewman (Helicopter) 2nd Class Benjamin Lazarus flies in an MH-60S Seahawk assigned to the “Dragon Whales” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28, as it transports supplies from the hospital ship USNS Comfort for a temporary medical treatment site in Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Morgan K. Nall) Navy Naval Aircrewman (Helicopter) 2nd Class Benjamin Lazarus flies in an MH-60S Seahawk assigned to the “Dragon Whales” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28, as it transports supplies from the hospital ship USNS Comfort for a temporary medical treatment site in Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Morgan K. Nall)

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BASSETERRE, St. Kitts and Nevis – The hospital ship USNS Comfort departed St. Kitts and Nevis following the completion of the ship’s ninth medical mission in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, Oct. 12.

“I want to say thank you to the government of the United States of America and particularly to the armed forces,” said Wendy Phipps, minister of state responsible for health. “It is the first time we’ve had such an extensive visit, with medical intervention being offered, as an effort to extend the bilateral relations that St. Kitts and Nevis continues to enjoy with the United States of America.”

During the six-day mission in Basseterre, more than 800 medical professionals provided care for 3,677 patients at two separate shore-based medical sites and performed 25 surgeries aboard the ship.

“For decades, St. Kitts and Nevis has been a steadfast partner for peace, stability and democracy, and I thank you all for your continued commitment to these principals,” said Army Maj. Gen. Rafael Ribas, deputy commander for mobilization and reserve affairs, U.S. Southern Command. “This multinational public, private, and multi-service team is what Comfort is all about; friends and partners working side-by-side to build a stronger neighborhood together.”

Additionally, the multinational staff coordinated several subject matter expert exchanges with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), which focused on search and rescue (SAR) of survivors at sea, diving at a sunken shipwreck, and shipboard firefighting.

“It is one that brings all of our national stakeholders together who have a responsibility for responding to any threat or impact of a natural hazard or man-made disaster,” said Claricia Langley-Stevens, Deputy National Disaster Coordinator for NEMA. “We thought it was important to grab hold of the opportunity while the Comfort was visiting, to be able to expose primarily Fire and Rescue Services and the St. Kitts-Nevis Defence Force, particularly the Coast Guard, to some of the training exercises.”

This allowed four nation’s militaries and seven civilian agencies to share techniques for overwater and overland SAR, to include demonstrating helicopter rescue capabilities.

“We had Naval Officers from Peru, Argentina, and Brazil in attendance to enrich the exchange of ideas and procedures by providing a variety of techniques and experiences. The challenges that St. Kitts and Nevis is facing is not just preparing for a disaster, but also combatting shipboard fires and dive operations,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. John Rashap, Comfort’s air detachment officer in charge. “All of which resulted in building trust and partnership through teamwork, as well as making St. Kitts and Nevis more prepared to make their citizens and visitors safer.”

Comfort’s mission is accomplished through the efforts of medical and non-medical personnel. The entire Comfort team is comprised of military and civilian personnel from the U.S. and partner nations, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Peru, as well as several non-government organizations creating a dynamic team capable of delivering a variety of services.

This marks the first Comfort visit to St. Kitts and Nevis and the seventh to the region since 2007. At each of the upcoming missions, the embarked medical teams will provide care aboard the Comfort and at two land-based medical sites, helping to relieve pressure on national medical systems, including those strained by an increase in cross-border migrants.

This deployment is a part of the U.S. Southern Command’s Enduring Promise initiative and reflects the United States’ ongoing commitment to friendship, partnership, and solidarity with partner nations in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.

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