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Volunteers Help to Fuel Continuing Promise

By Donna Miles/American Forces Press Service

PORT AU PRINCE, April 16, 2009 - Several dozen pallets stretched across a docking area here yesterday – a fraction of those waiting to be loaded onto trucks for distribution throughout Haiti -- providing a tangible symbol of evolving partnerships officials call key to Continuing Promise 2009’s success.

Navy Capt. Robert G. Lineberry Jr., commodore and tactical commander of the hospital ship USNS Comfort, presided at a ceremonial handover of more than 350 pallets of humanitarian support donated by international aid groups.

Comfort, making the first stop of its four-month humanitarian assistance mission through the region, transported the pallets of 1.4 million meals, medical supplies, blankets, baby wipes and hygiene supplies to Haiti from the United States.

After anchoring about three miles offshore in Port au Prince harbor April 9, Navy aircrews began ferrying the supplies ashore, sling-loading them from MH-60 Seahawks.

“It was a lot of work,” conceded Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jason Basham, a Navy civil affairs practitioner who helped stage the pallets aboard ship, then offloaded them ashore. “But the feeling I have about this is really good. I met a lot of good people who I know they will do great things with it.

“After all,” he said, “this is all part of enhancing the partnership of the Continuing Promise mission.”

Lineberry praised the partnerships that not only made the deliveries possible, but also are bringing critical skills and support to the Continuing Promise mission.

“Over the last two days, the team onboard Comfort has moved over 350 pallets here into Haiti,” he told a group assembled under a tent to shade them from the hot mid-day sun. “Today, we take time to recognize our great partners who helped us all along the way to make this mission so valuable.”

The first Continuing Promise mission, in 2007, included just “a handful” of nongovernmental organization representatives, Lineberry told American Forces Press Service.

“We’ve learned a lot in this mission and expanded our number of partners,” he said. “We learned very quickly of the capability, the willingness and the resources that our partners have – and that they want to be out here with us.”

So this Continuing Promise mission, the fourth through Latin America and the Caribbean during the past three years, includes representatives of nearly a dozen humanitarian groups.

They’re people like Rob Voynow, a licensed practical nurse who said he jumped at the chance to participate, along with 13 other members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “This is something that just doesn’t come along every day,” Voynow said. “It’s a way to make an important contribution, bringing different types of expertise.”

David Eddey, special projects manager for Project Hope, got his first exposure to the military when he served aboard USNS Mercy, Comfort’s sister ship, providing disaster response and humanitarian relief following the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia. “Since then, Project Hope has developed a wonderful working relationship with the military,” he said.

Project Hope has 20 volunteers aboard Comfort, and will contribute a total of 97 volunteers before Continuing Promise wraps up in late July.

Eddey expressed pride in the mission’s evolution during the past two years, particularly the increasing role of host-country nongovernmental organizations. “We’re breaking down barriers and showing synergistically what it’s possible for us to do together,” he said. “We’re working together to bring hope to people in need.”

Together, these and other participating nongovernmental organizations have quadrupled donations to the mission since Continuing Promise 2007, noted Capt. Thomas J. Finger, a civilian Military Sealift Command boat captain and Comfort’s master.

“What we’re hoping is that these food and hygiene and medical supplies will, over time, improve the quality of life of the neediest Haitians,” Finger said.

In addition, many of the humanitarian volunteers bring medical and dental skills to the mission, working alongside military and U.S. Public Health Service medical professionals aboard Comfort and at clinics ashore.

The partnership makes the most of strengths each participating entity brings to the effort, Lineberry said. This includes the military’s extensive planning capabilities -- “an enormous resource” on USNS Comfort, he said.

The 250-bed floating hospital is equipped and staffed to provide just about any kind of medical treatment except open-heart surgery or organ transplants.

Nearly halfway into its 10-day visit to Haiti, its crew of medical professionals from the Navy, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, international partners, U.S. Public Health Service and nongovernmental organizations is conducting 15 to 25 surgeries a day, according to Navy Capt. James J. Ware, who overseas Comfort medical operations.

Meanwhile, the staff is seeing about 500 patients a day at onshore medical sites set up through coordination with Haiti’s health ministry, he said.

“We know we can’t do everything today,” Ware said at yesterday’s ceremony. “But we will be back with our partners. We hope to bring additional international doctors and nurses, and all work together for the benefit of the people of Haiti.”