Monday, December 1, 2008


Within 24 hours, we will round the final buoy on our transit back to homeport Norfolk, Virginia). From Miami to Norfolk we will have hosted over 230 Tigers (Family Riders); offloaded heavy lift engineering equipment, flew off the USMC Heavy Lift CH-53 aircraft and USN MH-60s, off loaded our landing craft and their tremendous crew, and made final preparations to enter port. By all accounts, the mission has been a success due in part by the coordination between the various agencies but due in a large part by the hard-work and determination of the men and women of our Armed Forces. Their "can-do" spirit have always been the backbone and the cornerstone of our successes and this mission was no different. Noteworthy: under the superb leadership of Captain Walter Towns, the Officers, Chief Petty Officers and crew were the heart beat and driving force of the mighty ship (KEARSARGE) that spirited us throughout the Latin American and Caribbean Region on this humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mission. They answered every bell, launched every craft and flew every sortie without accident or incident.

As the Mission Commander, it has been a true honor to serve with the 1,500 outstanding professional men and women of whom I have come to fondly refer to simply as "The TEAM". As we transited through Miami to pick up our family and friends, we had the distinct pleasure of hosting Admiral Stavridis, Commander, United States Southern Command, for a brief period. During his visit, he met with the mission commanders, team and organization leaders, and representatives of the crew; walked the deckplates meeting and greeting our military men and women; and addressed the crew over the internal speaker system. During his address, he highlighted the tremendous success of the mission and its contribution in working with the host nations and partner nations, joint services, non government and interagency organizations in enhancing regional stability, security, and prosperity within his Area of Focus.

From 6 August to 2 December 2008, our "TEAM" consistently demonstrated unparalleled success executing humanitarian civic assistance operations and theater security cooperation during CONTINUING PROMISE 2008 Caribbean deployment. Their efforts in conducting veterinary, medical, dental and civil engineering support to six partner nations, sent a strong message of compassion, support and commitment to Central and South America and the Caribbean. During the deployment our medical teams treated more than 47,000 patients, dispensed more than 81,300 prescriptions, treated nearly 5,600 animals, provided more than 198,600 medical, dental and optometric services, and flew 188 patients to USS KEARSARGE (LHD 3) for surgeries. Our engineers conducted 24 construction and renovation projects, improving the lives and displaying our support and promise of hope to our friends and partner nations in the region. On short notice, we conducted disaster relief operations in Haiti following four tropical storms that struck the nation in less than a month. Our support to the Haitian people saved numerous lives during a precarious situation by delivering more than 3.3 million pounds of essential relief supplies.

The success of the mission fostered the trust and confidence of our partner nations in the pledge to improve lives throughout the U.S. Southern Command Area of Focus and highlighted the U.S. commitment to further security, stability, and prosperity in the Americas. It was a great call to duty and the "TEAM" answered the call and performed with exemplary results. We close the book on this deployment with the confidence that follow-on missions will "CONTINUE THE PROMISE" of working with our partners, our neighbors and our friends in this Area of Focus.

Friday, November 28, 2008


Greetings family members and readers, as we round the bend and head homeward, you can be sure that we are one and all looking forward, with great anticipation, our reunion with friends and family. It has been a long four months and again you have endured the challenges at home while we executed the mission abroad. We are all acutely aware that our success can only be realized by your hard work, sacrifice and commitment; and that you, once again, stepped up to assume the even greater responsibility of carrying out multiple roles with less resources. We are very aware of the economic situation that exists back home and are preparing to join in with the rest of our fellow Americans to pitch in and do our part to make our Nation’s economy strong again. We thank you for tightening the belts in our absence. We know it has not been easy and that is just one more reason to say thank you.

I hope that you have been following our efforts through our Web site links, including this blog site. They are filled with photos and stories of the tremendous heroics and gestures of kindness and goodwill that were rendered during the mission. As you are aware, we had the fortunate opportunity to be in the right place at the right time during Haiti’s devastating encounter with hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Hannah. Thousands of people perished and were rendered homeless, jobless and in some cases hopeless because of the tremendous destruction and desolation caused by the storms. Our time there was short (19 days) but our impact was significant. We were glad to be able to help, and we are thankful for the opportunity.

Speaking of thankful, another Thanksgiving will find us separated from you. There are lots of preparations going on around the ship to make it as festive as possible, so that everyone can have the taste, if not the touch of Thanksgiving. But as I always say, when out to sea, you establish familial like relationships, unique to seafarers such as ourselves and at the end of the day, the end of our journey, we are banded together as SHIPMATES…protector and enforcer of each other’s safety and well being. We are a rare bunch and doing this over and over takes a rare breed. Just anyone can’t do it and those that do, I consider the chosen few.

For the last days as we head north, we note with a watchful eye slight drops in temperature and climate changes. Someone told us it was winter there and on occasion ice and snow can be seen. That is a phenomenon that we have not experienced for a long time so we will have to dig for layered clothing stuffed deep in our sea bags…It is that time again. For the last two days we have been taking on stores, fuel and transferring other equipment and goods with the USNS ARTIC.

Who are we: 1, 500 men and women
Navy, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines, United States Public Health Services, Non Government Organizations (Project Hope, Operation Smile, International Aid), Partner Nations (Brazil, Canada, France, Netherlands) and Host Nations visited
How long were we gone:
118 day deployment
Where did we go:
Visit seven (7) countries (Nicaragua, Colombia, Haiti; Dutch Netherlands; Dominican Republic;; Trinidad and Tobago; Guyana)
What did we do (SOME GOOD!):
Conducted Humanitarian Assistance (good will) in 5 countries
Conducted Disaster Relief in Haiti
Conducted 24 Engineering Projects (building, repairing, restoring facilities)
Conducted 24 Community Relations Events (volunteering, painting,, etc)
Conducted 51 Exchange and Discussion Seminars (medical engineering, naval)
Treated nearly 48,000 patients (optometry, minor surgeries, ophthalmology, etc)
Dispensed over 81,000 medications
Repaired over 180 pieces of medical equipment.
Treated over 5,600 animals (farm, live stock and pets)
Why did we do it: Because it was necessary, and we were able to provide good will to those in need; some direr than others. We were able to help build the trust and confidence of our partner nations to reinforce our commitment to improve the lives of those within the Latin American and Caribbean region.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Guyana and Beyond . . .

Here we are setting sail away from the beautiful country of Guyana. For the past 13 days, we have worked very closely with our neighbors and friends of this beautiful country in providing much needed medical care and support to its people in the remote townships of Mabaruma, Port Kaituma and Santa Rosa of Region One (far North East); providing medical care, treatment and educational seminars and surgeries at the St Joseph Mercy Hospital and conducting engineering and community relations projects and distributing Project Handclasp material throughout the northern and southern regions.

Our arrival was received with a wonderful welcome. The people of Guyana were excited and turned out in masses to provide physical and emotional support to make this mission a success. In early March, our advance team identified the scope and scale of the projects and determined the conditions necessary to support them. Upon our arrival, to our satisfaction, but not to our surprise, the government and the community had followed through on those preconditions enabling us to hit the ground running, or in this case, working. To our joy, this has been the case in every country; some more than others, but no less than a dedicated effort by the host country to do what needed to be done before our arrival so that we could start on day one doing what we had come to do. That’s partnership; that’s cooperation; that’s commitment.

In Guyana, we exceeded all of our expectations and projections. Specifically, the five engineering projects were a tremendous success:
1. East Ruimveldt Community Center [renovation and repair of the Center’s lighting, plumbing, landscape, structures, new 1,800 feet of security fencing and the installation of a new playground and] went very well. It was a face lift that turned the much used Center into a much improved community center, both functionally and aesthetically.
2. West Demerara Regional Hospital, eight miles from Georgetown, where they were in dire need of a more sanitary, secure and modernized food service area, we: enclosed an open air building with concrete blocks; installed doors and windows; installed new serving countertops, shelving, storage areas and cabinets for food preparation and serving; purchased and installed electrical outlets, lights, ceiling fans, kitchen appliances; built outside picnic tables and benches; painted the building, and conducted extensive landscaping work.
3. Houston Community High School, where I had the pleasure of talking with the children grades (7-12), teachers and administrators; our “TEAM”: repaired the gutter drain system; installed ceiling and floor tile; installed bathrooms fixtures; repaired and installed new plumbing; installed electrical lighting and fans; expanded the library and, built shelving and book cases.
4. Red Cross Children’s Convalescent Home we: replaced emergency escape slides that led from the second floor to the ground level; repaired and installed the evacuation staging area, and handed out teddy bears to the young toddlers and children that are orphaned or left there during the day or days while parents are at work. It is a great facility and a great concept in long term care.
5. South Ruimveldt Park which was just an open lot, we installed large play ground set and landscaped a dirt play ground area. Also, we installed benches and repaired the fencing gate and improved the drive way area. The community action leader was very proud indeed of our efforts, and the children; let’s just say, as soon as the ribbon was cut, the sounds of playtime rang out.

Our Medical efforts were no less successful. In fact, we exceeded, on a daily
basis, our projections in rendering both medical care and treatment and conducting medical education seminars. Aids awareness and sexually responsibility are common themes on the television, papers and through out print and bill board mediums. The preponderance of our medical efforts were focused in the North East area known as Region ONE. We were told, and we noted the difficulty in getting medical support to the regions due to the lack of roads and infrastructure. We noted, and were told that it can take hours by small boat (out board and row boat) to get from the outlying communities to the local medical clinic and a full day to get down south to Georgetown for medical care. Patients and their families stated that they often had to stay with friends or elsewhere when they arrived to Georgetown to get long term care and that it was a travel and logistic nightmare; compounding an already emotionally challenging situation.

During our discussions, medical nurses, administrators, doctors, NGO volunteers and other country doctors discussed their frustrations in not being able to deliver the care that was needed in that region. But to a person, they were all tremendously elated by our presence. I won’t breakout the individual medical project numbers, however, I will present the overall contributions that we [U.S. Guyana, NGOs and others] achieved as a “TEAM”.
1. In North East, Region ONE area of Mabaruma, Port Kaituma, santa Rosa and the city of Georgetown we:
1. treated 6,642 patients
2. conducted 69 surgeries for the mission (36 afloat, 33 ashore)
3. treated 1,649 animals
4. dispensed 10,057 pharmaceuticals
5. conducted 1,111 educational training sessions
6. our Project Hope partners conducted over 33 surgeries in Georgetown (St Joseph Hospital)

It has been a tremendously successful country visit, and we hope that we have done some good. Now let me turn your attention to two special cases in Guyana that sort of captures why we are here and why we do what we do above and beyond the lofty goals and objectives that define our mission…of partnering and working with our neighbors and friends in Central and South America and the Caribbean to help further security, stability and prosperity within the region.

• We had the blessing and fortune to perform a special surgery on a three-year-old girl whose eyelids had been partially fused closed since birth and could barely see. As we were to understand, she had been taken around the country and outside the country to seek medical care and treatment to correct the birth defect, without success.
When she arrived on the ship, she was reserved, shy and obviously conscious of her condition. She rarely smiled and would not look you in the eye. Her father, clearly a man of faith and filled with hope, expressed his gratitude for our offer and thanked us regardless of the outcome. Two days later, after the operation, I visited the small girl in the medical ward and there, in place of the shy and reserved young child, was a vibrant, smiling, playful and confident child filled with a clear view of the world that awaited her.
Her Father, as you could imagine, was overwhelmed and overjoyed for what had been given to his precious gift…his child and as it was clearly evident….his world. Words can not express or explain the feelings of the moment; but I will try….happy, relieved, overjoyed, and blessed. As I scan Merriam-Webster, I am sure there are many more adjectives to choose from...However, I will leave it to you to fill in the blanks with your own words.

• On 18 November, while we were in the Santa Rosa area conducting our medical project site visit, it was brought to our attention that a 15-year-old girl there was complaining of a pain in her side. The doctors diagnosed it as appendicitis. Due to her extreme pain, they decided to have her transferred to Georgetown…which as I stated earlier could take a full day or days to get there. When we heard of her condition, our doctors provided a second opinion and diagnosed her situation as more emergent than urgent. They immediately called for a helicopter to fly from the ship and medically evacuate (MEDVAC) her from Santa Rosa to Georgetown; turning an 8 hour or all day journey into a 60 minute trip.
When we delivered her to the Georgetown hospital, it was determined that her appendix had ruptured and had she not received immediate medical care, she could have died. She has since recovered is getting back to normal.

This was not the first time we had conducted a medical evacuation. During our transit from Trinidad to Guyana, we were called upon to use our helicopters to pick up and transfer a Norwegian crewmember who had suffered a heart attack from their vessel at sea to Georgetown hospital. Using a stokes litter, because we could not land on the small craft, we had to lower our medical team onto the small boat, stabilize the patient and then hoist him and the team into our helicopter for onward transfer to the hospital where he too made a full recovery. Again, these are clear and logical examples why our unique capabilities and capacities are best suited for this type of mission…you just never know whether it will be a small rescue mission or a large scale Disaster Relief mission similar to Haiti that will present itself.

So we have now finished in Guyana and preparing for our journey home. As we wrapped up in Guyana, the relatives of the 15 year old girl came to me and thanked us for our support. They simply said, “I know that you all are doing a lot here in Guyana, and we appreciate it; but what you did to save her life is the most precious thing that you could have ever done.”

Although, I understand the sincerity and compassion from which their comments are stirred, I am sure that at some level, we all feel the same about every single structure repaired or medical service rendered…this was a most important thing that we had done, together.

So now allow me to turn my attention back to my “TEAM”. There is still much to be done, and I must return to the business at hand. Thank You!!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Final Lap...

Blog update; two weeks removed from the sandy beaches of Curacao, we arrived in Trinidad and Tobago on 25 October and departed on 7 November. Our brief stop in Curacao was a welcome break and provided the “team” some well deserved rest and relaxation. It was a great opportunity to walk the beaches, sample the cuisine and shop for family and friends. Everyone really enjoyed themselves and after a few days of rest there was a curious sense around the ship that they were ready, no, more than ready to return to the mission at hand...helping others. It is amazing what a life changing experience this has been for many, if not all of us. Helping others to have access to the basics of health care, education, and quality working conditions really opens your eyes to what is truly important in life. As such, we are blessed and should be grateful of the liberties and freedoms that democracy affords us in our great nation. There is a price for freedom and there are consequences for not paying that price...we should all chose to pay that price...the risks and consequences of not are too dire.

So now here we are off the coast of Guyana after operating in Trinidad and Tobago (TTO). While in TTO, we were welcomed by the government and people of Trinidad...Trinis as they like to be called. It appeared a country with great aspirations for its future. A beautiful country, everywhere we went, we were greeted by smiles and embraced for our presence and our purpose.
Our mission in TTO was comprised of three major engineering projects, and two full time medical projects at local clinic in Couva and hospital in Arima. The three engineering projects were located at 1) Cyril Ross Nursery for children with HIV/AIDS, 2) All-For-One Child Development Center, and 3) the St Judes School for Girls.
• At the Cyril Ross Nursery, we met with four students from U.S. colleges
who were in TTO on foreign exchange tours. They were very upbeat and considered their experience to be invaluable...I tend to agree that those sorts of experiences and exposures can provide vital insight to our younger generation on the tremendous impact they can have through volunteer work. The children at the clinic were very up beat and full of energy as our team worked frantically landscaping the grounds, installing drainage systems, repairing fences; and repairing and installing new playground sets - all rewarding work. It was good to be able to do some good; especially there.
• Over at the All-In-One Clinic, we were met by Mr Jordan. He is the
school's creator, and he is the school's life source. The walls of the rooms, although dimly lit, were splashed with articles as far back as the late 70's highlighting how this young entertainer used his personal and meager earnings and savings to startup this Center. It is a Center dedicated to the community; dedicated to the youth in the community who might not otherwise have the opportunity to get the "LIFE SKILLS” to make it in the world. He is passionate about the mission and passionate about the results...It is contagious and it is up-lifting...we are honored to have a small part of his tremendous journey…giving the gift of giving to the community. For this project, we built much needed storage spaces, installed cabinets, shelving and lights (turning those dim lit rooms into brightly lit and energized rooms), renovated bathrooms, kitchens and office spaces, installed a multi-purpose swing set and repaired the plumbing giving the Center a Face Lift.

• Finally over to the St Jude's School for Girls, our mission was to restore a
dilapidated broken down 40 room building that had been closed/condemned for four years. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by Head Sister Katrina...who told us that she had been praying for this and that "her prayers had finally been answered"; well so had ours. The project was the complete renovation of the facility. It was our most demanding and our most rewarding project. For two weeks, we worked closely with their corps of Army Engineers to rebuild the clinic. That kind of team work and cooperation was pervasive throughout every aspect of the entire mission…it was a true partnering of time, energy and effort. Every inch of progress and every step forward was a step together... side by side, shoulder to shoulder, shovel to shovel and scalpel to scalpel with our friends, our neighbors our partners in Trinidad. It was a grand project with grand success. Similar to our previous country visits, we arrived as “partners and neighbors”, but we parted as "friends and family".

Since departing Norfolk, Va. On 6 August, the "TEAM", as I have come to fondly refer to them, has completed humanitarian assistance missions in Nicaragua and Colombia, Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago. During our routine humanitarian assistance mission, we were able to provide critical disaster relief assistance to Haiti in the wake of the terrible destruction caused by the tropical storms and cyclones. So now we find ourselves off the coast of Guyana; our last, but not least, country visit before returning home. We are determined for Guyana to be an “exclamation point” on a successful mission. We are focused and we remain committed.

Our mission, so personal and endearing it has become; exemplifies a United States Maritime Strategy that emphasizes deploying capability to strengthen relationships with our friends and our neighbors within the Western Hemisphere. It is a mission that has changed the perceptions and outlook of those involved and looking on. It is about common goals and, stability and prosperity. We are glad to be here, and we are making a difference. Let's us return to our business at hand.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ahoy, eh! From the Canadian Medical Contingent in KEARSARGE!

The third and last Canadian contingent has arrived! And not only did the crew make us feel at home, but so did the Commanding Officer of the USS Kearsarge, Captain Towns, when he announced it over the one MC, the ship’s PA system. Furthermore, the Mission Commander of Operation Continuing Promise, Commodore Ponds, also addressed the third Canadian contingent along with other foreign nationals onboard. It was obvious that our Canadian Health Services predecessors had left a good impression.

The 13 Canadian Forces Health Services personnel come from all over Canada and all volunteered to take part in this unique opportunity to work with our allies, to provide care to underserved countries and to exercise professional skills. The contingent consists of six medical technicians; Sgt Christopher Thomas, MCpl Sonia Blaha, MCpl Mathew Macauley, Cpl Jason Foote, Cpl Karine Boulay, Cpl Isabelle Gauthier-Simard, three nurses; Capt. Karen Roden, Capt. Bryan Giles and SLt Megin Marshall, one dentist; Capt. Barbara Brigadier, one dental technician; Cpl Lucienne Ouellette, one physician; LCol Ross Purcer, LCol Ross Purcer, and one health care administrator; Capt. Sandy Haley.

Capt. Bryan Giles says of his experience so far, “I was impressed with the size of the ship and passage-ways as well as the friendliness of the crew.” He, and a number of other Canadians were welcomed to dinner with the Commodore while at sea transiting to Trinidad from Curacao.

Canada’s team of health professionals is eager to cooperate with our American counterparts and practice skills on the ground. Not only is this deployment a great way to encourage regional partnership, but it will also enable Canadian Forces Health Services professionals to develop professionally and personally in a challenging and rewarding environment. We would like to thank the USS Kearsarge for offering us the opportunity to participate in this deployment and for the warm welcoming. We are excited to be here and look forward to the rest of the deployment. By: LT Crystal Myers

This blog was recommended and approved for posting by CDRE Frank Ponds. “ I feel there to be no better way to integrate this magnificent team of Partner Nations embarked in support of this mission than to allow them to present their perspectives.” Although we often find is easy to consider and accept one’s action from their own point of view; it is much more beneficial to view it through the lens of others. - CDRE Ponds

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hitting Our Stride!

The sun set on a day far different from the one originally envisioned due to circumstances, weather, and friendships. The friendships forged here in Dominican Repubic, and on Kearsarge, shaped this to into a very memorable and adventurous day. I started off in Sabana Grande. Our engineers are building seahuts at the local elementary school. They industriously hammer and saw under the hot sun, also constructing a playground and a basketball court.
In Sabana Grande, Project Handclasp donated soccer balls and textbooks. A ceremony was held in a little white gazebo in the middle of town, where the Governor and Mayor, the Director of Education and the school principal, parents and students ran to welcome us. They were so appreciative that they planned a spectacular ceremony for us, complete with teenagers entertaining us with local dances and music, and speeches all around. After the ceremony the Governor took us to a local restaurant for lunch, where we discussed other ways to lend our assistance.
I then drove through palm tree farms and over mountains to one of our medical sites in Bayaguana. Our medical teams have been quite busy, treating approximately 1,200 patients each day. When we reached the medical site, a daily thunderstorm rolled through and it became impossible for our helicopters to reach us to whisk us back to Kearsarge. With quick thinking and teamwork, we bussed the medical teams two hours back to Santa Domingo where our LCU boat met us to take us back to Kearsarge under the moonlit sky.
Although the day ended later than expected, I was glad to see firsthand the appreciative faces of schoolchildren and parents, educators and doctors, as they accepted our help and Project Handclasp donations. The people of Dominican Republic value family and friendships as much as we do in America – this shared belief is what drives us all to work late into the night. Bouncing through the waves on the LCU to Kearsarge, I can only marvel at the hard work of our crewembers who scrambled to get the medical teams back home for a good night sleep, so they can awake before dawn and begin anew. We are at the half point of the deployment and our mission in DOMREP. But you could not tell by the enthusiasm around the ship and in the field. We continue to have more volunteers that we have projects and out HN continue to demonstrate an out pour of support not experienced in any other previous countries. We will soon celebrate our 233rd Navy Birthday and what a celebration it is….seafarers on and all. What a difference a day makes, what a difference in deed!!!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Getting Started . . .

Our first day here in Dominican Republic was a great success. I took an orientation flight to different sites where Continuing Promise will be providing medical care and building structures for the Dominicans. The flight illuminated a beautiful country, with rolling hills and a sunny shoreline. I attended a welcoming ceremony in the morning. The CP Team Leaders, along with Ambassador Fannin and other military and civilian personnel from the U.S. Embassy were greeted by a marching band; very exciting with lots of pomp and circumstances. Our hosts included the COS for the Navy along with other senior naval officers from the Dominican Republic. Our mission and our message is clear, we are here to help the government of DOMREP provide essential care and support to its citizens.
Our engineering team was greeted by a spectacular site in the town of Sabana Grande, where they are building a playground and seahuts at the elementary school named Escuela Basica Presbitero Carlos Novel. The assistant to the Mayor met our engineers when they landed and escorted them to the school. Upon arriving, a pickup truck’s loud speaker system circling the area announced of the arrival of Continuing Promise, encouraging the townspeople to come out and welcome us.
The Engineers spent time with the school leaders surveying the construction site followed by a small ceremony hosted by the Mayor, Sindico Marcos Tavarez, and the local pastor, Chief of Police, principal and staff of the school, parents and students. In total, approximately 800 people were present. The Mayor spoke at length about how much this project and America’s presence meant to the community, and asked local volunteers to partner with Continuing Promise and work along side us.
The many warm and heartfelt welcomes we received today hearten us all, and show once again that we are touching many lives. We are on a mission of providing assistance to those in need; our friends, and our neighbors in the Dominican Republic. It is a mission that will strengthen relations while furthering stability, security and prosperity within the region. We are here; there is much to be done, and we are eager to get started. Time, as always, is of the essence, and we have none to waste; so let us be about the task at hand.