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.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A Short Breather

For the past three days, Kearsarge and her crew have enjoyed some much needed liberty. We were in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the weather was beautiful. Our crew relaxed for a few days and explored the city of San Juan. Kearsarge organized tours of old San Juan forts and a tropical rainforest. Some sailors swam in the ocean; others joined me for a game of golf, where one of my junior officers gave me a run for my money, beating me by seven strokes; or did I let him win? No, too competitive, he won. All were happy to relax and feel the warm sun on their faces. We tasted the local cuisine; a popular Puerto Rican dish is mufungo – smashed plantains mixed with different meats or seafood. This was a well-deserved break, and I was happy to see everyone relax and to hear their laughter ringing through the old cobblestone streets of San Juan. Puerto Rico has lots of history and it has lots of character, and we were happy to be able to experience both.
Kearsarge departed San Juan early this morning for Dominican Republic. In 1496 Santo Domingo became Europe’s first permanent settlement in the New World, and today they rely on the United States to receive 75 percent of their exports. Although the mission will be the same, the dynamics are slightly different. Our emphasis will be on the partnering of existing capabilities and working together to deliver our unique capabilities to those in need.
The DOMREP mission promises to be as rewarding for Continuing Promise as Nicaragua and Colombia. Our medical teams will visit three sites to provide medical, dental and veterinarian care. Doctors will also engage in surgical screenings at outlying sites, and patients will be brought back to Kearsarge for onboard surgeries. Our engineering teams will also be busy building playgrounds and seahuts for the local elementary schools. With able bodied assistance of KEARSARGE’s Sailors, we will execute numerous community relations projects, conduct subject matter expert exchanges with their military and establish new friendships and relationships.
Tonight is a busy night of confirming plans, as operations begin tomorrow with the rising of the sun. We are ready to resume Continuing Promise, and everyone is eager to hit the ground running tomorrow. There is much to do, so let us be about our business.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Doing What Needs To Be Done!

Today marked a milestone for our disaster relief efforts herein Haiti – our aircrew have now dropped over one million pounds of supplies over the country of Haiti. While we continue to drop bags of rice, beans, and flour, jugs of cooking oil and bottles of water, it is with a sense of remorse that we must prepare to depart this country. Operation Continuing Promise beckons us in other countries, and we must resume our commitment to these partner nations.
During the past 17 days that we have been in Haiti, we have worked and cooperated closely with USAID, OFDA, World Food Program, the UN, and many others. During the last few days, we put together portfolios of our efforts, resources, and lessons learned. Kearsarge’s capabilities will now transition to other surface and air lift assets. World Food Program contracted their own helicopters to continue the heavy air lift capabilities that Team Continuing Promise has provided these last 17 days. Our crew is working double time, still arranging for food and supplies to reach Haitians before we depart, and also preparing for a smooth transition to the NGOs who will take over. We will not leave this country without ensuring a smooth transition, and NO gap in the amount of aid delivered.
Today we conducted our first combined assessments with medical NGOs and government agencies. Our medical team visited the cities of Ennery and St. Michael. Our engineers have also been busy; today we procured material to repair a well and water distribution system in the town of Bainet. This town is home to 6,000 people, and this one well is the single water source supporting not only the town, but also the region of 20,000 residents and the only hospital. The materials were delivered to the airport in Port-au-Prince today; at the crack of dawn tomorrow our engineers will be hard at work repairing this very important well.
In the midst of grueling labors and detailed planning, Kearsarge hosted a reception this afternoon. In attendance was the Deputy Chief of Mission, Haiti Minister of Public Works, USAID Director, and senior members from OFDA, World Food Program, MINUSTAH, and the Canadian Embassy. After coordinating and communicating with these individuals for 17 days now, I was touched to see everyone sit down together, sharing food and laughter. Friendships have been forged in Haiti, and we will never forget those who we worked along side with these many strenuous weeks, those who labored as hard as us, those who share our commitment to the people, and the country, of Haiti. As we continue to transition our relief efforts to the NGOs, this one reception illuminated the impact we all have toward Haiti. There is lots to be done, so let me get back to it...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sincere Gesture of Kindness and Caring

The lines form early and snake through the muddy paths of the northern city Gonaives. Women stand patiently, waiting for food. They stand in the line among hundreds of others after walking miles under the sweltering sun. They do not complain, they do not push or shove. These Haitian women wait patiently because they know, with absolute certainty, that at the end of the line there is food waiting for them. At the end of the line sits the bags of rice and beans, and jugs of cooking oil, that our crewmembers delivered to this devastated area.
This line of women ends at one of the distribution points for food. During his visit, Rear Admiral Kernan wanted to see for himself what happens to the food once our helicopters drop it off, and once our volunteer working parties heave it out of the helicopters and lug it to the beach. Rear Admiral Kernan recounted later of the women’s fortitude, of seeing the thankful looks in their eyes as they received their food and placed it on their heads to begin trekking the miles back to their homes.
Today we delivered 142 metric tons of food, and 3,600 2.5 gallon bags of water to many cities in Haiti.
Our crewmembers labored long into the day again. Meetings at the U.S. Embassy illuminated more support for us to provide to Haiti. Our Doctors attended a meeting chaired by the Assistant to the Minister of Health. Present at this meeting were different NGOs, including Doctors Without Borders. A representative from Doctors Without Borders described the invaluable impact of Team Continuing Promise’s support and assistance. Before we arrived, he said, they only distributed 20 tons of food in five days. With our heavy lift capabilities we are now moving 120 tons every day. Our Doctors are coordinating with our NGO partners and the Ministry of Health of Haiti to assess outlying areas.
The U.S. Ambassador to Haiti received a brief from Team Continuing Promise Engineers after days of assessing the bridges and infrastructure. Our expertise and assessments provide invaluable information to rebuild this country.
There are so many components and players involved in this mission to alleviate the suffering of the Haitians – heaving and stacking bags of food and water, communicating and coordinating with the Haitian Government and NGOs, sharing expertise and experience within the medical and engineering fields. Yet in the midst of heavy air lifts and plans, our aircrew responded to a special request. We had received a report of an American citizen who desperately needed our help. This American citizen was a 73 year old woman. She has Type II diabetes and was having complications; she had no medication and needed to travel to Port-au-Prince, an impossible task right now except by aircraft.
When our helicopter landed at Gonaives, this woman slowly emerged from the back of an ambulance. I met her and helped her hobble toward the waiting helicopter. One of our aircrew watched her slow approach to the helicopter, and when she arrived he immediately dropped to one knee, as if to ask for her hand in marriage, and used his other knee for her to step into the waiting helicopter. I was moved passionately, but NOT surprised, by this sincere gesture of kindness. It is the kind of human spirit that the men and women display everyday and one that no matter how many times witnessed, always bring a sense of pride to be in command of such a fine and honorable bunch.
During the flight to Port-au-Prince this elderly woman motioned that she was hungry; I gave her a Kashi granola bar filled with nutritious little peanuts. When we landed at the airfield, she looked at us, said “God Bless you,” and disappeared into the heat of the day in search of medication.
Every crewmember sees the role they each play in the aftermath of the storms, and tonight as the sun sinks behind a layer of squally clouds sure to bring more rain in the days to come, we can rest for a few hours, knowing our tremendous efforts helped hundreds of Haitians to sleep tonight with full bellies and peaceful knowledge that we care. There is much to be done so I must get back to the business at hand…Helping and giving.. It is what we are here to do.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Helping Haiti

Team Continuing Promise was tasked September 5 to divert our mission in Colombia and quickly steam to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. We are here conducting Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief operations in support of the relief efforts in order to mitigate human suffering and loss of life due to the effects of current hurricanes Gustav, Hanna and Ike.
After we received the order to pull out of Santa Marta, Colombia, early – which was unfortunate but necessary in this case- we heard more and more detailed reports of the suffering in Haiti. On the day we arrived, I took an orientation helicopter ride over this country, and the despair drifted up.
Flooding, mud, and landslides had washed-out roads, all results from the successive storms. There was major damage to agriculture.
Seven days later, here we are. Flooded with flashbacks from the last time this ship and her crew completed a similar mission. One year ago we were doing the exact same thing off the coast of Bangladesh after Cyclone Sidr devastated that area. With such vivid memories of that mission, every crewmember understands the significant contribution that we make, and all eagerly volunteer their support.
In this one short week our tremendous Sailors have provided so much relief to the Haitians. Initially, everyone’s immediate concern was the destruction to the transportation infrastructure. Damaged bridges and highways are making it extremely difficult for USAID and the NGOs to deliver food and supplies from our drop sites to the remote areas. USS Kearsarge travels along the coast of Haiti, allowing our helicopters, LCU and LCM boats to journey back and forth delivering supplies to cities in the north and south of Haiti.
We still have challenges. Government, non-government and private organizations – all arrived in Haiti eager to help but were working independently of one another. Now we attend daily meetings with the Haiti Government, USAID, World Food Program, the Office of Foreign Disaster Relief, Center for Disease Control, a Canadian ship and various other partners working to relieve the suffering. Team Continuing Promise provides tremendous air and surface heavy lift capabilities that were lacking before we arrived. Integrating and communicating with these partners is paying off, with an increase in the amount of relief supplies being delivered by both surface and air lifts.
Our aircrew and boat crews are laboring around the clock. Our helicopters pick up 105 pound bags of rice and beans provided by NGOs and deliver them to hard-hit areas. Crewmembers heave and throw these heavy bags under the hot sun, and no one complains. Our LCU and LCMs also deliver food and water. Night and day, Sailors volunteer for working parties, filling these 2.5 gallon bags of water and loading them onto the boats for daily deliveries. Today we delivered 4,000 2.5 gallon bags of water to the different cities.
Each day we are out delivering food and water reveals damages that are even more extensive and expansive than imagined. The flooding recedes to reveal the full extent of devastation. Crops and homes are destroyed, especially in the valleys and low lying areas. The country's food sources have been heavily impacted and the need for future assistance will be great. Ours is to help bring immediate relief and aid to the suffering, and we believe, and are being told, that our presence is making a tremendous difference. Today a gentleman from France, who is with World Food Program, told us that it would be a “nightmare” without us here. That statement alone assures us that our tremendous and laboring efforts are doing what we intended, alleviate the pain caused by the storms and restore hope to the people of Haiti.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

On The Road Again

With the number of Hurricane’s and Tropical Storms that have developed in the past week, we have been uncertain as to whether or not we would be called upon to carry out a real time Disaster Relief mission. As many of you may have already read on the internet, we have in fact received our tasking to do so in Haiti which makes today our final day in Colombia. A wonderful and exciting day it was and a great way to wrap up our assignment here in Santa Marta.
The day began with a very early helo ride to the airport outside of the Coast Guard Base, where I was scheduled to meet the Colombian Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Barrera. Making his acquaintance today was quite an honor and it gave me such a great opportunity to meet this genuinely extraordinary man. I had read his biography prior to our meeting and while it spells out all of his fantastic achievements, meeting him in person and hearing about all he has done and continues to do is a whole other experience.

Upon meeting him at the airport he walked over to us with his Aide and greeted us with a strong handshake and a pleasant smile. He was ready and excited to head out to our mighty warship. Once we arrived and took a seat in CAPT Town’s Cabin for a cup of coffee, we learned that he had always wanted to visit and tour a ship of this class, and we are thrilled to be the ones to have afforded him this opportunity. We spoke of this mission and what our goals have been and what has been completed to date, he acknowledged and was pleased with all that was being said. He was grateful and made it clear through words spoken in perfect English.
After a brief coffee stop, we began our tour of Kearsarge. First stop was the Well deck which was really the highlight of the entire tour as nearly 100 of his own soldiers were standing in ranks awaiting his arrival. These men and women of the Colombian Armed Forces were onboard as part of a program that we have adopted during this visit, the Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE). SMEE is an exchange of skills and expertise between the U.S. Military and Host Nation Militaries in such fields as First Aid, Navigation, Small Boat Operations, Damage Control and Leadership. Courses were taught both at the Coast Guard Base ashore in Santa Marta and some were taught onboard Kearsarge and today, the Admiral happened to arrive while the Leadership portion was being carried out onboard.
As we walked down the ramp to the Well Deck, you could see the pride just pouring out of the men and women that serve in the Colombian Armed Forces as their Chief of Naval Operations made his way in their direction. As he walked through the ranks he shook the hands of many of the troops and offered words of encouragement and guidance. Once he put them at ease they swarmed around him with so much excitement and enthusiasm and most noticeably, admiration. It was amazing and comparable to what our reaction would be if we received a surprise visit from the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations or even the President. Pictures were being taken left and right and just an incredible visit for those participating in the SMEE- to be on a U.S. Warship, learning and being taught by a highly respected military, and meeting their CNO!
After a few minutes we moved forward with the tour, showing the Admiral the upper and lower sections of Vehicle Stowage, the Mess decks, Dental, Medical, and then back to the CO’s cabin. We closed with another cup of camaraderie (coffee) and a gift exchange which despite being a tradition for any visit, is always a gesture not only of respect but also of friendship and partnership. The Admiral presented myself and the CO with a beautiful plaque of wood and bronze and a very unique set of cufflinks with the Colombian Flag on them that I will always treasure as a fond memory of this visit.
While it is unfortunate that we must depart Santa Marta a few days early, it is a must and we will push forward to help others that are in need of our assistance. It has been a great pleasure and such an honor to have been here. The people we met made us feel so welcome and embraced so warmly. We wish them all the best and a very bright and prosperous future. In conclusion, we executed the mission and again left with new found friendships and memories to last a life time. We have a lot in common with the citizens of Colombia and we now have one more thing in common…camaraderie.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Key to the Heart of Colombia

It is well known that Texans are a very proud and fun group of individuals and it was no different for Ambassador Brownfield, the US Ambassador to Colombia. He is a man with a big personality and has a wealth of knowledge and experience to offer this country and this particular mission. This all became very much apparent when I met him for the first time at the Helicopter landing zone in Santa Marta for our tour of the mission project sites. He had great information to offer on each site and he seemed thrilled to be able to look into the crystal ball at what we hope to offer each town once each project is complete.
Following our tour the Ambassador, CAPT Towns and I returned to the ship with just enough time to freshen up a bit and head back down to the Hanger Bay for a Press Conference attended by numerous Colombian Media Outlets. It was another great opportunity to provide the press and their readers a glimpse of this terrific mission and the great work being done for those in need.
Over 45 Colombian Distinguished Visitors as well as the ships wardroom and the Leading Chief Petty Officers gathered together on this night to meet and greet fellow countrymen and regional neighbors. CAPT Towns and I welcomed our guest and opened the floor to both the Ambassador and General Padilla-Commander of Nicaraguan Military Forces. Both offered insightful commentary regarding the significance of this mission and the relationship between the United States and Colombia. In the crowd you could see the gestures and head-nods moving in agreement to the dialogue of friendship between neighbors with common interests. The Ambassador, emphasized the need for increased dialogue at all levels of government to bring our two countries closer together. General Padilla put it in straight military terms in highlighting the need for our governments and our militaries to work together, closer and more often to further regional security and stability. He recounted the last time an American ship came to Colombia. He said, “In the 1990’s another American ship came to the pacific coast and stopped in Colombia to provide Humanitarian Assistance. The citizens of the country did not receive the crew with open arms but rather with great protest against their presence. Look at how the times have changed, at how the relationship has changed.” It is true. The times have changed considerably, from a time of animosity to one of friendship and most importantly partnership.
As we concluded the remarks, the Mayor of Santa Marta and the Governor of Magdalena presented myself and the CO with a tremendous honor, the Key to Santa Marta and the Cold Cross. We received these gifts on behalf of the entire CONTINUING PROMISE TEAM. It is a great honor to have been able to represent the team in receiving this honor, and I felt humbled to have been given the opportunity to lead such a talented group of unselfish men and women on this mission. This mission is about giving and it is time to return to the task at hand.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Colombia: “Starting a new”.

Today, we began in earnest our Humanitarian Assistance Mission in Colombia in and around the city of Santa Marta and out lying regions. The needs are pretty much the same and no less significant. As I visited the potential medical, dental, and engineering sites, I noted a common theme that I have seen world wide. There will always be a need; some greater than others.

Yesterday, we took a few hours to relax and rev up for today by having a steel beach picnic on the flight deck. It was good to get out and meet, in an informal setting, this terrific team. Most of them I barely recognized out of uniform; but our discussions quickly and almost always returned to a common theme…it was good what we had accomplished in Nicaragua, and we all wished we had time to do more. Just a few hours were spent recharging before we were back to certifying and validating our plans to ensure that each and every minute I Colombia would be productive. As the sun crept up this morning, we could see on the horizon the outline of Santa Marta surrounded by mountains and ridge lines..and what a beautiful country is.

The day continued with a series of meetings, handshakes and warm welcomes from city officials and the townsfolk. The word had gotten out that we were here and why we were here; to provide medical, care, dental, care, veterinarian, care, donate food, clothing, books, medical supplies, etc and restore and repair schools, hospitals and playground areas for the children.

The medical screening lines filled quickly, and the families, especially the children, poured out into the streets to get a glimpse of us, say hello, shake our hands or give a gentle touch or tug of acknowledgment. We are here for 12 days and there is a lot to be done; so let me sign off and get back to work…or is it work; hard to tell from where I stand. "It is better to give than to receive!"

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Giving it our all!

An exceptional and touching day it was as we closed out our mission in Nicaragua. I think it is safe to say that the 13 days we had here were well spent and an triumphant success. Overall, our medical and dental providers had over 47,000 patient service encounters. The veterinarians made significant progress as well with nearly 2,000 animals treated. Our engineers, both Air Force and Sea Bee’s, took each site by storm making repairs to all they could get their hands on in the amount of time allowed. They made great strides at the Government Compound (2 sea huts constructed for community education centers, repairs to surrounding concrete, overall clean up), Nancy Bach Hospital (3 inch broken water pipe repaired), Municipal Park (repairs to park gazebo, playground equipment installed, installation of new pump and repaired leaking water tank), Juan Comenius High School (tongue and groove ceiling installed, perimeter chain link fence repaired, 9 classrooms painted), Tuapi Bridge (bridge materials donated to Nicaraguan officials for later use on Tuapi bridge repairs), Yulu Well (hand pump installed, well cover and new roof constructed), Yulu Clinic (6 six inch benches fabricated for outside seating), Centro Escolar (2 outside pavilions constructed, one for the outside cooking area and one to serve as a spare classroom and a swing set installed).

The Community Relations Teams made tremendous contributions to the mission as well. They were essentially the beautification team and the public relations squad going out making new friends with the young and the old. They installed basketball hoops and soccer goals at the Yulu site. At the Municipal Park they painted the swing sets, monuments, and gazebo in the Nicaraguan national colors of blue and white, and at the Juan Comenius High School volunteers painted all the classrooms and assisted in clean up. All of this accomplished and that does not yet include all that was achieved by our NGO and Public Heath Teams.
Project Hope made significant donations of general medicines and medical equipment to Nicaragua’s Ministry of Health which will be distributed amongst hospitals throughout the country. All the materials designated for Nicaragua by Project Handclasp were also distributed, which was no easy task but completed flawlessly by Chaplain O’Bannon. Donations included sonogram machines, two EKG machines, a defibrillator, pediatric hospital beds, as well as high nutrition meals, teddy bears and soccer balls. Also, the final tally for Operation Smile patients was 33. All departing Kearsarge with renewed hope and happiness
With all these projects in mind I was excited and looking forward to seeing how they turned out and were being received by the local community where I was met by the Pastor. He led us into the church where services were being held and even called us up to the altar where he asked that I speak to the congregation. I expressed to them how pleased we are to have been able to provide some relief and assistance and that this just the beginning, it is a foundation for hope and a brighter future to build upon.
Following Yulu, we proceeded on to the Nancy Bach Hospital, El Centro Escolar, and the Juan Comenius High School to turn over each site and present a Continuing Promise plaque before heading to the Municipal Park in the Center of Puerto Cabezas for the Closing Ceremony. The swing sets, teeter-totters, and playground installed were all set up and swarming with children, it was an awesome site to see. Music was playing and the crowd was starting to come in when a roll of thunder and lightening came through to bringing torrential down pours. Amazingly, the crowd remained through the storm for the entire ceremony…drenched and soaked to the bone, but filled with the warmth that only true friendship can bring. – The attending pastor said it…“Do not be afraid of this rain, it is a symbol of the blessings that have been brought to us through this group of people, it is a shower of blessings”.

The ceremony was concluded by a fantastic performance by the local High School’s Drum and Bugle Team who were accompanied by what seemed to be school cheerleaders and twirlers. The beat of the drum was so deep it resonated through the entire town. I loved every minute of it.
The next day, we depart Nicaragua and pressing forward to our next destination. They say that rain at a wedding is good luck, I felt the same for our mission. The rain refreshed us and the local population stimulated us and we are ready and looking forward to our next assignment.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Celebration of Unity

Only one day remains of our visit here in Nicaragua. As I reflect back on the day of our arrival, 11 August, I can clearly envision the condition of the project sites as we toured them for the first time --- Puerto Cabezas Municipal Park had 4 or five tree stumps and a few benches to sit on; the Government Compound had only its two main buildings and an empty dirt lot where they envisioned small vocational classrooms would sit; Juan Comenius High School classrooms were without ceilings, torn fences, graffiti walls, and much needed tables and benches; at the Nancy Bach Hospital, there were poor drainage conditions, broken equipment and much needed medical supplies; in the remote town of Yulu the only drinking well was marginal in its utility and sanitation, and both Yulu and another remote town, Betania, were in much need of medical, dental, and veterinarian care.

Tomorrow is our final day of operations ashore and onboard the KEARSARGE. Beginning early tomorrow, we will conduct a series of pass and review ceremonies celebrating the collective achievement of the men and women embarked in support of this mission and the Nicaraguans who joined in to make it all happen.

No time to stop and smell the roses, as we continue to plow through the many medical and engineering needs that still exist. Tremendous strides are still being made at the Nancy Bach Hospital by the US Public Health Service. For the past three days, they have been providing training to the health care specialists and practitioners through workshops focusing on mid-wifery, social services, domestic violence, STD’s, basic life support, women’s heath, maternal wellness, waterborne diseases and dive training and safety. After a few days of our arrival, we discovered that many young men had suffered from dive related injuries. Although the hospital has a decompression chamber (Hyperbaric Chamber) to treat decompression injuries; we thought a little education and prevention would go a long way in providing a cure.

Over in the town of Yulu we are wrapping up the final medical, dental, veterinary and engineering projects. Yesterday, we screened or treated everyone that showed up. And like the town of Tuapi, we hope to have screened or treated the entire Yulu township of 800 before the mission is over.

Back in the town of Puerto Cabezas at Juan Cormenius High School, our make shift temporary medical facility, the lines are getting shorter by the day as we whittle down to a hand full of patients that may not get seen or treated before we leave. We would like to treat them all, but there just isn’t enough time. Our engineers and ship volunteers are also putting on the final touches of painting and cleaning so that tomorrow we can turn the facility back over to administrators with new roofs, new furniture, fresh paint and cleaned grounds for the new school year.

Also, our engineers squeezed in the time and found enough material to build two shelters and repair a swing set at the Centro Escolar School in Puerto Cabezas. A very small school, they conduct half day classes in order to serve over 600 students. The school is also adult education center on the weekends.

In response to a short notice request to join them in worship, I, along with members of the KEARSARGE church choir, Chaplain O’Bannon, ship’s chaplain, the Commanding Officer and other members of my staff and team attended church services [Thanksgiving Service] at La Iglesia del Barrio El Muelle (Moravian Church) in Puerto Cabezas. A largely mosquito congregation, we crammed into this modest church for almost two hours of fellowship, praying and singing together, we concluded with the entire church praying over the mission and the safety of the team. It was a very moving 2 hours, and one not much different from what we are mostly accustomed; given reverence to the Almighty and thanks for His many blessings.

Before heading back to the ship, we stopped off to open and dedicate two small buildings that were built to be vocational and training centers. Complete with electricity outlets and installed ceiling fans, the buildings will provide training to the many adults plagued by the high unemployment rate.

Tomorrow will bring mixed emotions for everyone. Within such a short amount of time so much has been accomplished but yet so much left undone. We are all recipients in this neighborly exchange…they the beneficiaries of our medical, dental, and engineering expertise along with donated food, supplies and equipment; and we the recipients of their many smiles and gestures of gratitude and thanks. It has been a “win-win” for all.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Smiles All Around

Last night we brought our first group of Operation Smile patients onboard, 11 children between the ages of 6 months and 12 years old who would be operated on today for the repair of cleft palates and or cleft lips. Each surgery ranges from 1-3 hours, depending on the extent of the process. For example, a cleft palate will likely take about 2 hours while a cleft lip will take roughly an hour. It was a relatively quick procedure, and I am very happy to report that each surgery performed today has gone supremely well and all 11 children, our “Terremotito” included, are resting comfortably in their family’s arms and hugging teddy bears given to them following the procedure.
Operation Smile has much experience with children like the ones on the Kearsarge. This international organization began in 1982 in the Philippines. In recent years, Operation Smile worked with the Navy 4 times, in 8 different countries. Every time, the composition of Operation Smile teams is international – here on the Kearsarge personnel from 6 different countries are onboard. There are 31 Operation Smile people on the Kearsarge. These 31 represent so many different medical specialties, including surgeons and anesthesiologists, pediatricians and plastic surgeons, translators, medical records, a child life specialist, dentists and speech therapists.
Tomorrow these children will depart Kearsarge and head back home as another group of 10 head in for surgery. Each family has been given a seminar on how to care for the child post-surgery along with new toothbrushes and antiseptic to ensure the appropriate care can be taken.
The teamwork that is occurring onboard this ship is amazing and can hardly be described in words. It is amazing to see what good can be accomplished and how many lives can be drastically improved in such a short amount of time - a 3 hour surgery that will allow young children to carry out their lives with a greater level of normality.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It's All In the Smile

While the last two days have been tremendously busy, it has been the kind of busy that you enjoy and actually look forward to. Nearly every hour of the day was filled with media visits, COMREL Projects, visits from Distinguished Guests and that does not even include the amazing strides that our Fleet Surgical Team and embarked NGO’s are making both afloat and ashore in Puerto Cabezas, Betania, and Yulu (beginning tomorrow)- all rural towns of Nicaragua.
Yesterday, 8/18/08, a media event was held onboard which allowed for several reporters from local media outlets to come aboard and take a closer look at what this mission is all about and hopefully deflect the current misconceptions being made on land. They were given the opportunity to ask questions and tour our medical and dental facilities to see what we have to offer as well as see where several Nicaraguan citizens have come for further surgical treatment. To date, five eye surgeries have been performed onboard.
When it was time for the media to depart, myself and the CO of Kearsarge, CAPT Walter Towns, departed as well for the softball game where I threw out the first pitch. This game has been the talk of the town since our arrival, despite what most people may think, soccer is not the game of choice here in Nicaragua, but rather softball. After yesterdays game, I can see why, they play a mean game and gave us a run for our money. While the Nicaraguan team did win in the end, it was the sprit of the game rather the score.
Today we had an early start again. I departed the ship this morning to meet our distinguished guests from the AMERICAN EMBASSY and Senior Nicaraguan Military Officers. After brief greetings and pleasantries, we visited three project sites to give them an appreciation of our progress since our arrival on the 11th of August. As of 19 August, we have medically screened over 23,000 citizens of Nicaragua and have treated over 6,000 patients, and we have four whole days left. It is a range of mixed emotions to be able to give to so many yet still see so many in need. Our guests were amazed at the progress made in such a short amount of time and could not refrain from heaping praise and appreciation for what we had and were doing to help their people. The Senior Nicaraguan Officer, General Aviles and the Embassy’s Charge’ d’ Affaires, Honorable Richard M. Sanders, commended the entire team for their tremendous effort. General Aviles, went on to state that there had never been such a display of compassion and commitment to the people of Nicaragua and that this show friendship would be remembered and appreciated for years and years to come.
Immediately following the site visits our guests and the media, returned to the ship via helicopter. If I had not previously mentioned, we have 8 Helicopters onboard, each piloted and maintained by very talented and professional crew members of HMH-464 (CH-53’s) or HSC-28 (MH-60S’s). Upon our return to the KEARSARGE, a brief press conference was held followed by a reception in the wardroom. Gifts were exchanged as well as a sincere words and gestures of appreciation and gratitude. Yes, there were hugs in the ranks, but who cared…we were caught up in the moment as true friends sometimes do when a connection has been made.
Later this evening my dinner companions were our Operation Smile counterparts who just arrived onboard today. Speaking to them was educational and enlightening as they presented the tales of a few families and their effort to arrive in Puerto Cabezas in the hope of being selected to be an Operation Smile patient. The most amazing was that of a family who traveled three days by various means to arrive for the evaluations and are fortunately onboard this evening for surgery in the morning. These types of stories are what give us the drive and determination to press forward through challenging conditions to make this mission a success. There is a need out there and we are trying our best to make a difference; despite the heat, despite the humidity, and despite whatever minor inconvenience may present itself, and they are minor in comparison.
This evening we have 11 children onboard with their escorts ready for surgery tomorrow. I had the chance to go down to meet them this evening and I was able to meet one child in particular who has already made a name for himself down in the medical department. They lovingly have nicknamed him “El Terremotito”, Spanish for the little earthquake. He is a little ball of energy that is so happy to be here and has captured the hearts of all who have had the profound privilege of meeting him. I look forward to tomorrow when I will see them all again, post surgery and well on their way to recovery and an improved quality of life. For them, it is more of an adventure and most are not quite aware of the life changing event that will happen tomorrow, but their parents are. In the parents eyes, you see signs and glimmers of hope and anticipation that any parent would have when their child is given the chance at living a “normal life.” “Que Dios les Bendiga”. May God Bless Them All.

Monday, August 18, 2008


A day of rest but not for the weary and the determined; it was business as usual, treating and screening those in need, and we are most fortunate to be able to show compassion on this day. Many of the goals we have set before us continue to be realized and this morning the last of our first two patients medically treated [ophthalmology] onboard Kearsarge, departed with not only clear and improved vision but a new outlook on life…one that I believe be favorable to our Country’s effort.

Although an Amphibious Landing Ship, USS Kearsarge is second only to the Navy's ready-reserve hospital ships USNS COMFORT and USNS MERCY in medical and dental support capability. Equipped with, 10 operating rooms- 4 main, 2 emergency and 4 dental operating rooms, X-ray facilities, a blood bank, pharmacy, laboratories, and Intensive Care ward facilities, she is very capable and almost designed with these types of operations in mind. To date, medically, we have rendered services to 14,902 patients, treated 4,125 patients ashore and 5 on board, dispensed over 6,000 medicines, treated over 300 livestock and animals and conducted over 2,000 medical training sessions with over 2,800 students. Engineering projects; we are in the process of seven projects in five different areas, including building and restoring school houses, office buildings, and parks. We have also delivered hundred of pallets of food, supplies and material to Nicaraguan citizens and donated a sonogram, endoscopy and EKG machines with training on operating and maintaining. Our first two patients successfully treated onboard were a 60 year old woman for cataract removal and a 12 year old boy for a removal of a growth on his eye, and 3 embarked patients today for medical treatment tomorrow. The doctors treat each patient with amazing care and thankfully we have a handful of Spanish speakers who work within the medical department that extend their language skills to ensure their stay was comfortable and all their needs were met and satisfied. And by the way, they are allowed to bring a family member or a friend for comfort.

Tomorrow we will receive Nicaraguan Media aboard and we look forward to the opportunity to welcome them and introduce them to the tremendous crew as well as give them a tour of this most capable vessel. Next week will be the final week of a two week mission. And we are on track to meet and exceed all expectations…and NOT our own.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

What A Day

While in Nicaragua we are scheduled to work at four locations, Puerto Cabezas, Tuapi, Yulu, and Betania, Peruto Cabezas having the most project sites. Yesterday, 8/16/08, marked the final day of our mission in Tuapi. We took the opportunity to take a look around and see how each site was progressing and what I saw was nothing short of amazing.We began with a stop at the Government Compound where a group of our Navy and Air Force Civil Engineers are building two small office like buildings directly behind the main building compound. As we asked questions about its progress, and if they were pleased with the construction efforts so far; we learned that the small buildings would be used as trade school training classrooms. For example, the first building will be utilized for local women to receive seamstress training. Essentially each building will be used as a classroom to further educate the people of Puerto Cabezas and surrounding areas on a particular specialty or type of work. Initially, training will focus on the seamstress profession but in the near future they are looking to expand the curriculum and offer a computer class and other vocational skill training. It appears to be a universal axiom that the way to resolving poverty is first and foremost through education. While this is still a developing idea in the area, it is definitely a step in the right direction, and we are glad to be able to help them in their journey.Following our site-visit , we made stops by the Nancy Bach Hospital, the Municipal park and finally to Juan Comenius High School where long lines of Nicaraguans continue to gather for medical and dental care. Each morning, we review the numbers of patients seen and treated at each medical location and while it is unsettling to see so many people, especially the elderly and small children, needing medical and dental care, it is very rewarding that we are able and here to assist the Nicaraguan community in their needs. I also noted that the engineering project had taken off with tremendous success. Although the school is alternating as a temporary dental and medical treatment facility during our visit, it is actually a permanent school for hundreds of Nicaraguan children. Our engineers have taken on the daunting task of restoring, repairing and replacing deteriorating ceilings, walls, fences and electrical wiring. We will complete the engineering project with Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Troops volunteering to conduct community relations projects to paint and touch-up the building, courtyard and class rooms.
After having MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) with the site team, we were headed out to our next site when I noticed a young man in an Air Force uniform getting into a taxi. Initially, I was concerned and then I realized that one of our own, Air Force Engineers, Airman First Class Mendoza, who had been part of the team repairing and reconstructing classrooms at the high school was from Nicaragua and that this was a reunion between him and his Nicaraguan family members. I stepped out of the car and met with his parents. During the discussion, I was almost overwhelmed by the pride in his mother’s eyes as I complimented her on her son’s tremendous commitment, dedication and contribution, and service to his country. It was clear that this meeting was more than a meeting but a cheerful reunion, and I was glad to have happened upon it.
After a very sincere hug, I presented Mendoza’s mother with a CPR-8 command coin and extended an invitation for them to visit the ship, anchored 6 miles off shore. Guess what, this morning as I was heading back to the ship from another site visit. There they were. When they arrived to the ship, they were met by the Commanding Officer, Capt Walter Towns, who gave the mother a ball cap and a tour of the ship. What a day, what a day…this is the kind of stuff that I live for.

Friday, August 15, 2008

One Week's Progress

Today marks one week since we set sail from Norfolk, VA and in one week this crew has been able to accomplish more that words can justly describe. Personnel from every group onboard- International Contingents, NGO’s, Civil Affairs, Public Affairs, MED/DENCAP, HMH-464, TACRON, Kearsarge and PHIBRON 8- have worked tirelessly, but with enthusiasm, to ensure that these first few days came together as near to flawless as possible; which is no easy task as we know that those first few days are critical and set the stage for the entire mission.
My team and I accompanied Rear Admiral Kernan, C4F, to Nancy Bach Hospital, in Puerto Cabeza; the only medical care facility in the region that can provide major medical care. There, RADM Kernan presented much needed major medical equipment [sonogram, endoscopy, EKG], donated by Project Handclasp, for the people of Nicaragua.
Upon our arrival at the Nancy Bach Hospital, we were received kindly by the nurses and practitioners who were all so enthused and excited to be receiving the EKG machine that was so desperately needed. RADM Kernin presented the equipment and opened his speech with a few lines in near flawless Spanish, a very impressive and well received gesture by those present at the ceremony. Immediately following the presentation, RADM Kernan and the team toured Nancy Bach Hospital with Dr Francisco Selva, Hospital Director. With the dedication and tenaciousness already demonstrated by our civil engineers, we are certain that the best we can provide will be done.
We next made a brief stop at the Puerto Cabeza Municipal Park, where we will conduct both engineering and community relations projects to bring the city’s square to life. Here, we will repair and install new recreation equipment for the kids and teenagers, paint structures, weed and mow the grass, and clean up the city’s public gathering place. Conversations with the locals indicated that this is where children and families come in the evenings and the weekends to socialize, relax and have fun. Our mission is to make it a place that is functional, enjoyable and aesthetically appealing. We will hold our final closing ceremonies here as a dedication to the city and its residents.
Next stop was the Las Comenius High School, a local high school that was converted into a medical treatment and education center for this mission. Unfortunately we experienced a slight delay in the opening of services for the day. Despite the delay, the medical team was able to quickly get back on track, under the leadership of LCDR Patel, resumed screening and treating those in need with professionalism and courtesy.
Tomorrow is another day, one that we look forward to and give thanks for having been blessed to do good for our neighbors and our friends of Nicaragua.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Other Opening Ceremony

The Opening Ceremony of the Olympics pulled in millions of viewer’s world wide and has captured the interest of just as many as teams compete in an event that has ultimately brought nations closer together, even if only for two weeks. The opening ceremonies of Continuing Promise did not bring in quite that large of an audience, however its impact on our relations with our Nicaraguan neighbors in Central America is just as significant and no doubt longer lasting as was noted through the response received by the locals of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua today during the ceremony as well as at each site visited.

Today marked the second day of Continuing Promise in operational mode. While we still had some elements inbound a majority of the NGO’s, Medical and Dental activities were out and receiving quite a showing. Our medical and dental team worked primarily out of Juan Comenius High School and accomplished a tremendous amount- in fact they accomplished a full days worth of appointments by mid day and were even cut short by a blistering rain shower that seemed to have come out of no where. Five dental extractions and numerous general and pediatric consultations were accomplished. All involved were well engaged and the enthusiasm of all parties was phenomenal. The most touching was the children, who while they were not fully aware of the magnitude of such an operation still seemed completely thankful for the personal and medical attention they were receiving; especially the toothbrushes given to them by the dentists.

Later in the afternoon after having spent time at the high school, we went on to the Nancy Bach Hospital, which is essentially the central local for health care. The compound had 100 beds of which 79 were currently filled with patients. Their patients are primarily children or pregnant women; however they have the capability to treat at a general level. What they were most lacking was such equipment as X-Ray machines, MRI’s, etc. While there, I had the pleasure of meeting with the lead doctor who seemed to echo the sentiments of the rest of the community with regards to our mission; eternally grateful. He said, “We are a poor town and have suffered much as a result of the devastating effects of Hurricane Felix last year. We are unable to repay you, at least not financially, but God will repay you for all the good you have done and we are very thankful for your help especially at a time when we need it most;” a reference to the devastating effects of Hurricane Felix in September of 2007. As we looked around, as noted elsewhere, lots of great work being done under austere conditions and with minimal resources.

Overall the entire day was a modest effort; I dare not use the word success at this stage, and we have much to do within a short timeframe. We are all eager to press on with this mission and look forward to seeing the end results- a renovated high school and hospital, a reconstructed bridge, a clean and beautified Municipal Park, and an ever blossoming friendship. After all what are friends and neighbors for…

A Birds Eye View

The familiar sound of check flights hummed in the air early this afternoon, this time however it was not for routine Deck Landing Qualifications but rather to transfer our Regional Security Education Program (RSEP) instructors ashore, send in our first group of engineers, and to allow me the opportunity to take an aerial tour of the beautiful country of Nicaragua. This occasion provided me the chance to have a glimpse into what tomorrow and the upcoming week’s evolutions will hold and to identify potential road bumps that may be experienced as a result of unfavorable weather conditions.

As I sat in the passenger seat of the helicopter, I soaked in all that my eyes could capture. We have a lot of good work to do and as we flew over each individual site, my heart was full of excitement and eagerness to begin- if not for anything else than to extend a helping hand and promote the friendship and partnership that we whole heartedly offer.

Before closing, I’d like to return to my reference of RSEP. The Navy has adopted the RSEP program in an effort to ensure our Sailors are knowledgeable on the historical and present conditions as well as the cultures of those countries scheduled to be visited during a given deployment. USS Kearsarge had the profound privilege of hosting two Professors; Professor Jeanne Giraldo and Professor Tom Berneau, from the prestigious Naval Post Graduate School located in Monterey, CA. Both Professors Giraldo and Berneau are subject matter experts and teach our nations finest enrolled in the National Security Affairs Program/Latin American Curriculum. Their knowledge was vast and their presentations thorough and they can be proud to say they left having made the crew much more knowledgeable than before. We extend our gratitude to them and the institution that afforded us their time and we wish them fair winds and following seas.

It is late evening as we gather for one final time to review our plans. We want this mission to be flawless and the only way we can be sure is to go over each and every detail until no stone is left unturned. We believe we have turned over every stone, and we are now ready to do what we have come to do… join with our neighbors in Nicaragua in providing valuable assistance to those in need. The planning is over, it is now time to DO!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Nicaragua- Almost There

As we draw closer to the shores of Nicaragua, anticipation of the first day of our mission ashore has taken over the mighty Kearsarge. The day was full of meetings and briefs to finely polish all the details of our arrival and the projects to be accomplished in the days to come. A group of over 1,500 doctors, dentists, engineers, and ship’s company; who were complete strangers just five days ago, have come together as a tight knit group with their sights set on providing humanitarian assistance to those in need.

Whether it is time put into planning, time repairing disaster stricken building and schools, time ashore providing health care or time spent playing a soccer game with the children of Nicaragua, each and every person plays a tremendous role in Continuing Promise ’08; perhaps a larger role than they can imagine. However, it will all become clear when we most earnestly shake the hands of our friends from Nicaragua as we partner capabilities and resources in support of the security, stability and well being of Nicaragua

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Miami Kick Off

Day three of Kearsarge’s deployment to the SOUTHCOM AOF and the first Distinguished Visitor Event was held right off the coast off Miami. As the mighty ship stoically sailed past the city known for it’s night life, a number of dignitaries and even TV personalities stepped foot on some of the U.S. Navy’s and Marine Corps' finest aircraft in order to fly out to the ship for what turned out to be a very successful, enlightening, and moving press conference and reception.

Around 2 p.m., the guests arrived aboard the MH-60 and CH-53's. As they arrived, they were greeted in true Kearsarge fashion, sharp looking Sailors smartly standing by to escort our visitors and render the appropriate honors. As each group arrived, they were accompanied to the Flag Mess where the press conference was to be held.

Each media outlet took position awaiting the arrival of myself, CAPT Towns and our distinguished visitors ADM J. Garcia, Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services and RADM R. Parker, Security and Intelligence Directorate SOUTHCOM, the numbers of questions were few, but probing and direct. A seemingly direct reflection of how eager they are to know more about the purpose and details of the mission. The guests numbered about 58, with guests, Distinguished Visitors (DV) and several local, national and international media outlets.

Our DVs included the Honorable Ramcan Roshanali, Consul General Guyana; Mr. Luiz Orozoco, Vice Consul General Colombia, ADM J. Garcia and RADM R. Parker. Among the media outlets were Univision and its famous TV host, Don Francisco, who I am told carries a worldwide Spanish speaking audience of approx. 80 million viewers, as well as Dominican Republic and Nicaraguan press. Although the media got its facts and figures primarily from senior officers, the true story, as always, can be found with the junior Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen. Theirs are the voices of sincerity, optimism and occasionally sarcasm…guess that’s why they are so embraced…their honesty, candor and diverse points of view are refreshing.

Commitment and promise was the theme of the evening, and undeniably felt in the aura of the conference and was most sincerely expressed in the final comments of one reporter of Latin American descent. He said, “Each of you is someone’s brother or sister, someone’s son or daughter, someone’s husband or wife, or someone’s father or mother and you are here carrying out an operation whose sole purpose is to help those less fortunate, to help our people, thank you”. Those words were most genuinely spoken and heart felt, leaving a lasting impression that inspired an even greater desire to do the best we possibly can to attain each and every goal set for this deployment.

Upon completion of the conference, guests retired to the wardroom where the ship’s Supply department awaited with an elegant spread of hors d’oeurves and beverages. The crowd mingled and friendships were kindled. After opening and welcoming remarks, and a brief presentation of the mission, I presented a toast …“To the Partnership Of The Americas, may our ties grow stronger with each and every passing day and for generations to come!"

By all accounts, the entire afternoon was a success and surely an indication of the months to follow.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Continuing Promise Deployment Begins

At 10:07 a.m. the morning of August 6, 2008, lines were pulled and a massive shadow moved across the pier. USS Kearsarge and the crew that brings her to life set out to sea once again, eager to carry out a mission defined by commitment and a continued promise of humanitarian assistance and community relations. Loaded out with 3 Landing Craft, 2 Amphibious Vehicles, 8 aircraft (MH-60S and CH-53’s), over 125,000 tons of cargo, equipment and supplies , 1,158 ship’s crew and a very welcome 202 members of joint, multinational, interagency and such Non-Government Organizations as Project Handclasp, Project Hope and Operation Smile, Mighty KEARSARGE is once again poised to do her country proud.

Having been involved in a Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief mission to Bangladesh in November of 2007 in the aftermath of Cyclone SIDR, the crew of Kearsarge is no stranger to these types of operations. Despite having taken place during the Thanksgiving Holiday, the crew remained focused and did not allow the distractions of family separation prevail. Instead, they put all their efforts into providing much needed supplies and relief to those who needed it most; preparing and delivering critical food, water and supplies to those devastated by Cyclone SIDR.

The personal satisfaction voiced and displayed by the crew in knowing that they were delivering relief and hope to those in need is immeasurable and even more so during that time of the year.
Just over nine months later, a new task is presented and the crew finds itself sailing South with partner militaries and NGOs on a four-month deployment in support of mission Continuing Promise (CP) 2008 Caribbean Phase.

The goal during this Humanitarian Civil Assistance Mission is simple; to demonstrate and carry out the United States’ continued commitment to our Carribean and Central and South American neighbors. Such a mission embraces partnerships and provides the foundation needed to build a relationship that will lead to security and prosperity within the region.

While we realize that this deployment will once again result in separation of family and friends during the holidays, we look forward to the new relationships that will be forged through the cooperation of neighboring nations working together to accomplish one goal; improved quality of life through health care and infrastructural improvements.

With new found shipmates embarked, some for the very first time on a Navy ship, our Sailors are eager to seize the opportunity to demonstrate their resolve and commitment in answering our nation's call to duty. Over the next several weeks, we will continue to conduct detailed planning and preparation to ensure mission success. As we leave our families behind, we pray for their health, safety and welfare until we return. This mission is a mission of commitment, and we are committed.