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.