Legacy of USNS Comfort

By Arif Patani, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division.

For the sixth time in its history, U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) recently left its homeport of Norfolk, Va., en route for South America and Central America to conduct an 11-week medical assistance mission.

At its first stop, in Ecuador, the ship’s embarked medical personnel treated more than 4,000 patients over the course of five days, both onboard and at two medical treatment locations set up nearby. Continuing its mission, the ship and its crew will work closely with host-nation health and government partners in Peru, Colombia, and Honduras, reflecting the United States’ enduring promise of friendship, partnership, and solidarity with the Americas.

USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) has a long and impressive history in service to the Navy, but it’s actually the third ship in Naval History to be named for the general word classification associated with hospital ships. Comfort I (AH-3) was commissioned March 18, 1918, and worked mainly in the Atlantic helping return wounded men home from Europe during World War I. The second Comfort (AH-6) was commissioned on May 5, 1944, and operated throughout World War II with a Navy crew and Army medical personnel.

USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) was placed in service with the Military Sealift Command on Dec. 1, 1987. Getting its first service during a time of war in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the ship’s medical teams saw more than 8,000 outpatients, admitted 700 inpatients, and performed 337 complex surgical procedures that often proved impossible to perform in the limited combat hospitals ashore.

From the early 1990s in the Arabian Gulf through the September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York; from Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in 2005 through the earthquake relief efforts in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 2010–the ship and its crew have continued to provide afloat medical facilities when called upon by the U.S. military, and hospital services to support U.S. disaster relief and humanitarian operations worldwide.

Take a look below to see USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) through the years!

Sailors assemble on the dock to watch the christening of the hospital ship USNS COMFORT (T-AH 20) at the National Steel and Shipbuilding Co.

A starboard bow view of the hospital ship USNS COMFORT (T-AH-20) passing through the Gaillard Cut of the Panama Canal while en route to its home port of Baltimore. The COMFORT, along with the hospital ship USNS MERCY (T-AH-19), is operated for the Navy by the Military Sealift Command.

Relatives and friends of crew members aboard the hospital ship USNS COMFORT (T-AH-20) watch from the pier as the vessel departs for the Persian Gulf in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

US Navy Ship (USNS) Comfort (T-HA 20), a Mercy Class hospital ship, enters the Souda Bay harbor during her transit of the eastern Mediterranean. The US is repositioning some of its military forces to support the President’s Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), and prepare for future contingencies as may be directed.

New York, N.Y. (Sept. 15, 2001) — U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) passes the Statue of Liberty enroute to Manhattan to provide assistance to victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. U.S. Navy Photo by Journalist 1st Class Preston Keres. (RELEASED)

CARIBBEAN SEA (Oct. 18, 2017) – Sailors embarked on the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), perform surgery on a patient in an operating room aboard the ship. Comfort is underway operating in the vicinity of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Department of Defense is supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the lead federal agency, in helping those affected by Hurricane Maria to minimize suffering and is one component of the overall whole-of-government response effort. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stephane Belcher/Released)

PACIFIC OCEAN (July 16, 2007) – An MH-60S Seahawk, from Helicopter Sea Combat (HSC) Squadron 28, conducts night vertical replenishment training aboard Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20). Comfort is on a four-month humanitarian deployment to Latin America and the Caribbean to provide medical treatment to patients in a dozen countries. While deployed, Comfort is under operational control of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and tactical control of Destroyer Squadron 24. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Steven King (RELEASED)

PUERTO SAN JOSE, Guatemala (July 1, 2011) Cmdr. Karen Elgin examines a pediatrics patient during a Continuing Promise 2011 medical community service event at the Los Angeles medical site in Puerto San Jose, Guatemala. Continuing Promise is a five-month humanitarian assistance mission to the Caribbean, Central and South America. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric C. Tretter/Released)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Jan. 20, 2010) The Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) manuevers off the coast of Haiti. The hospital ship is conducting humanitarian and disaster relief operations as part of Operation Unified Response after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused severe damage to the island on Jan. 12, 2010. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Erin Olberholtzen/Released)

A Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew conducts an overflight of the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) off the coast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Oct. 6, 2017. The Coast Guard and Department of Defense partners are working directly with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to aid those affected by Hurricane Maria. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Meredith Manning

ESMERALDAS, Ecuador (Oct. 26, 2018) – Lt. Kate Allen, an optometrist from Knoxville, Tenn., and Gabriela Uyaguari, a student enrolled at Central University of Ecuador from Quito, Ecuador, exam a patient’s eyes at one of two medical sites. The hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) is on an 11-week medical support mission to Central and South America as part of U.S. Southern Command’s Enduring Promise initiative. Working with health and government partners in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Honduras, the embarked medical team will provide care on board and at land-based medical sites, helping to relieve pressure on national medical systems caused partly by an increase in cross-border migrants. The deployment reflects the United States’ enduring promise of friendship, partnership and solidarity with the Americas. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. CaShaunta Q. Williams/Released)

ESMERALDAS, Ecuador (Oct. 20, 2018) – Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Alexis Valenzuela, from San Diego, ensures an MH-60S Seahawk, assigned to the “Sea Knights” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22, remains clear during a vertical replenishment. USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) is on an 11-week medical support mission to Central and South America as part of U.S. Southern Command’s Enduring Promise initiative. Working with health and government partners in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Honduras, the embarked medical team will provide care on board and at land-based medical sites, helping to relieve pressure on national medical systems caused partly by an increase in cross-border migrants. The deployment reflects the United States’ enduring promise of friendship, partnership and solidarity with the Americas. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Scott Bigley)

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