Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why We Do This

Dear Family & Friends,

I am often asked the question: Why is Mercy on this humanitarian deployment? There are many reasons to do a mission like this. For me, the best reason is because - we can. We are, after all, the United States. As such, we have the means to do a mission like this and therefore we should. What’s the point of having such a magnificent platform as USNS Mercy if you’re not going to use her? Nonetheless, I’m sure there are many who see the world pragmatically and ask: What is the “return-on-investment” to the American taxpayers who funded this mission? My own pragmatic answer to this question is that “By doing humanitarian missions, we are better prepared for disaster relief missions.” Allow me to explain…

USNS Mercy, and her sistership USNS Comfort, were built for the purpose of Combat Trauma & Life Support. They were conceived and designed at the height of the Cold War as a means to care for large numbers of causalities in some epic battle. Although called to several conflicts, our hospital ships (thankfully) have never been required to do the actual mission they were designed for. In the past, Mercy and Comfort were never really given serious consideration as disaster relief responders. Although superb trauma platforms, these hospital ships could never hope to arrive to some disaster in time for what’s know in medical parlance as “the golden hour.” Therefore, these ships sat idle (Mercy in San Diego/Comfort in Baltimore) for many years waiting for a specific mission we hoped would never happen. This all changed on December 26th 2004.

The massive earthquake which struck off the coast of Sumatra generated a tsunami that ripped a path of destruction across the Indian Ocean. An estimated quarter of a million people were killed while several million were left homeless. The US Navy immediately responded by sending the Aircraft Carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and the Amphibious Assault Ship USS Essex. Then, on January 1st 2005, the USNS Mercy departed San Diego and headed for the stricken region. It was an interesting decision to send Mercy. After all, Mercy is a trauma platform and by the time she arrived there wouldn’t be many trauma cases. The work would be primarily clinical – and Mercy was never envisioned as a clinic - to supplement the local medical infrastructure destroyed by the tsunami. Nonetheless, some really bright people began to figure out how to use this vessel in ways never before imagined by the folks who designed and built her.

One of the most innovative ideas came when then CNO Admiral Vern Clark, called the CEO of Project HOPE Dr. John Howe, and asked if HOPE would like to join Mercy on this relief mission. Dr. Howe could not have been more enthusiastic. This formed an important partnership and broke down a lot of existing paradigms. Our hospital ships could directly team up with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in disaster relief efforts. Many of these organizations have extensive experience working in various regions around the world. They also can provide health and medical professionals – many of whom would already be working in the stricken areas when the hospital ship arrived.

Building on the foundation of the 2005 Tsunami mission, Mercy departed on a humanitarian mission in April of 2006. Many lessons from the 2005 mission were applied and a significant number of minor alterations were made to Mercy’s configuration and supply allowance. We began to realize that… If the lessons from a disaster relief mission could improve a humanitarian assistance mission; then, the lessons learned from a humanitarian mission would most certainly improve future disaster relief missions.

As we continue to do these humanitarian missions, Mercy is no longer just a trauma platform. She is now a fully functional, fully equipped, multi-capable, and state-of-the-art hospital that can go almost anywhere in the world – anytime she is needed! As many of you know, I was born and raised in Napa, California…about 50-miles north of San Francisco. When you’re from the Bay Area, “disaster preparedness” is practically embedded in your DNA. Being the pragmatic guy that I am, it only makes since to keep a ship like USNS Mercy ready for whatever the next disaster might be.

More to come…



John said...

Captain Bob

If you remove this post, I'll understand.

Can someone please tell WHY this happened? This is a mission to HELP people in need.

I am sorry if this upsets anyone on here, but the fact remains that even this type of a mission can be dangerous.

"Navy chopper shot while flying over Philippines."

The U.S. Navy says one of its helicopters came under fire today while it was on a humanitarian mission in the Philippines.
Sailors found two bullet holes when the MH-60 chopper returned to the USNS Mercy after picking people up about 50 miles from the coast.

"The holes appear to be an entry and exit point from a single bullet," Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Navy spokesman, tells the Associated Press.

Jim Dolbow said...

Mercy's deployment is an outstanding example of medical diplomacy in action. Medical Diplomacy has been defined by former HHS Secretart Tommy Thompson as "the winning of hearts and minds of people in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and elsewhere by exporting medical care, expertise, and personnel to help those who need it most."

Keep up the good work!

Phil said...

Captain Bob
It's great finally being able to attach a face to the Mercy's Captain. My son has spoken of you often and I wish to tell you my appreciation for the work that you and the civ/mar crew are doing.

Dave's Dad

sexy said...