Floor Statement on USNS Comfort in Baltimore
Feb 23, 2010
Madam Speaker, when it is not on one of its life-saving missions, the USNS Comfort’s home is the Port of Baltimore. The virtual floating hospital has provided humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands of patients all over the world.
The Comfort was deployed after Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast, has supported Operation Iraqi Freedom, and was activated on September 11, 2001, to provide meals, housing, medical and psychological services to volunteer and relief workers at Ground Zero.
It was once again called into service after the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January that, at most recent count, has claimed 150,000 lives.
As the representative of the Port of Baltimore, I have always been especially proud of the USNS Comfort and its critical missions. I felt especially privileged to have the chance to board the USNS Comfort to send off the men and women the night before they departed for Haiti.
It was a humbling experience to climb the steps aboard the Comfort and witness doctors and nurses training for what would meet them on the shores of Haiti.
I saw soldiers practicing security drills, volunteers distributing blankets and pillows and sterilizing medical equipment, and toured the operating rooms where so many lives would be saved by the military personnel of our U.S. Navy.
Huge cranes were loading truckloads of medical supplies onto its deck. In what should have been chaos, I saw the focus and precision perhaps capable only by the United States Military.
Once in Haiti, these men and women faced choices unimaginable to those of us back here watching it all on TV. On their first day, they felt tremendous frustration when the helicopter that would carry patients aboard had no place to land on shore.
They have delivered babies, treated patients who are paralyzed, missing limbs, and suffering from infections made worse by neglect. They have performed more than 600 surgeries so far.
When the Comfort left, the Navy said they would be there as long as it took. One month later, these military personnel still remain in Haiti, away from their families, treating hundreds of patients each day. Because the ship is now over capacity, the workers are sleeping in shifts. And I know that most of them wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Amid the horror, the USNS Comfort, a mile out into the Bay, is a beacon of hope for those still injured and untreated.
My heart goes out to the people of Haiti and their relatives throughout the United States. I am proud of the men and women aboard Baltimore’s own Comfort who are saving lives with the vigor and skill, again, perhaps only capable by the United States Military.
I would also like to take this opportunity to recognize the teams for the world-renowned University of Maryland Shock Trauma who also traveled to Haiti. My life was saved at Shock Trauma many years ago, and now the people of Haiti are benefitting from the skill and expertise of the world’s top medical professionals.
The teams set up operating rooms on the open ground, under tents, and are committed to remaining there until they can deliver healthcare on an on-going basis.
I’ve heard stories from the team, and I know the conditions take an emotional toll. But their determination in the face of what many would consider a hopeless situation is a testimony to the American spirit.
I wish to express my sincere gratitude for the commitment of both the men and women of the USNS Comfort and Shock Trauma and wish them luck as their mission continues.
I yield the balance of my time.