Continuing Promise 2008 Over; USS Kearsarge Heads Home to Norfolk

The US Navy’s amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LPD 3) sails under the proud American motto “Don’t Tread On Me!” Also available with Motto “Make My Day” and with no motto.

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USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), along with various embarked units, departed Georgetown, Guyana Nov. 22 to begin transit back to its homeport in Norfolk, Va., concluding four-months at sea in support of the Caribbean phase of Continuing Promise (CP) 2008.

Kearsarge’s mission during CP 2008 was to conduct joint civil-military operations including humanitarian and civic assistance, as well as veterinary, medical, dental and civil engineering support to six partner nations and to send a strong message of compassion, support and commitment to Central and South America and the Caribbean.

“An incredible journey seems like an understatement for this mission,” said CP08 Mission Commander, Capt. Fernandez “Frank” Ponds. “The men and women of Continuing Promise have given their sweat, their tears and, at times, their blood to make this mission successful. We have broken through many barriers – language, cultural and government – to reach out to our neighbors in Central and South America and Caribbean in a gesture of goodwill and friendship. The bonds we have made will last for years to come and only grow stronger with future missions to the area.”

During the deployment, the CP 2008 medical contingent of more than 150 joint military and international military medical professionals and nongovernmental organizations, worked along side host nation officials to treat more than 47,000 primary care patients, dispense more than 81,300 prescriptions, provide veterinary care to nearly 5,600 animals and conduct more than 198,600 medical, dental and optometric services.

In addition to the primary basic medical care provided by the CP 2008 team, 221 patients were flown to Kearsarge for shipboard surgeries, including hernia repair and eye surgery.

One of the mission’s most memorable surgeries involved two eight-year old twin boys from the Dominican Republic who received eye surgery to correct Strabismus, a condition where the eyes do not properly align with one another.

“The boy’s have been dealing with this problem since they were born,” said Joselyn Altagracia Carmarena Vargas, the twin’s mother. “This blessing has been a long time coming, and our family is very grateful for everything that is being done for us.”

For the most of the doctors on the Continuing Promise team, the smiles, hugs and handshakes have made this mission worthwhile.

“It gives me great satisfaction to be able to have helped these boys in a way no one else could,” said Cmdr. Brian Alexander, an ophthalmologist embarked aboard Kearsarge for the CP 2008 mission. “The smiles on the faces of the twins and their mother were one of the biggest rewards I could have received.”

During the ship’s visit to Nicaragua, surgeons from Operation Smile, a worldwide children’s medical charity that provides free surgery to children born with facial deformities, performed more than 20 cleft lip and cleft pallet surgeries.

While in Guyana, the final stop in the CP 2008 mission, Kearsarge was also able to tackle unforeseen medical emergencies. Pilots from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28, Detachment 5, conducted an at-sea medical evacuation of a heart-attack victim aboard a nearby vessel, while air crew members from Marine Heavy Helicopter (HMH) Squadron 464, rendered emergency transport assistance at Kumaka District Hospital in Santa Rosa to a young girl suffering from appendicitis.

In addition to the medical care provided by the CP team, Navy Seabees attached to Construction Battalion Mobile Unit (CBMU) 202, and civil engineers from the Air Force’s 5th Civil Engineer Squadron’s Prime Base Emergency Engineer Force completed various construction and renovation projects in each of the countries visited during the mission.

In all, the joint-military engineering team built three schools, renovated 10 schools, clinics and hospitals, conducted 10 park/community center renovations, and performed five infrastructure related projects.

“I am very proud of the projects my engineers were able to accomplish in the short periods of time that we had to work. To build three school facilities from the ground up was an amazing accomplishment,” said Maj. Thomas Defazio, officer in charge of CP 2008 engineers. “We all felt privileged to be a part of this mission. The teamwork amongst the various organizations that came together was unbelievable. I also greatly enjoyed the opportunity to work with the Seabees again. I think our organizations have much to learn from each other. We came as two separate units but left as one team.”

At each stop on the deployment, Kearsarge Sailors assisted the engineering team by participating in volunteer community relations projects at the sites and offering extra hands to help with landscaping, construction, painting and building playgrounds.
The Sailors also took great pride in getting to know the communities they worked in by organizing several sporting events including basketball, soccer and cricket.

Throughout the deployment, Kearsarge hospital furniture, clothing, books and medical supplies through the Navy’s Project Handclasp.

The ship also hosted numerous dignitaries, including presidents, prime ministers, U.S. ambassadors and ministers of health and defense.

Project Hope brought volunteers from numerous career fields, including pediatricians, nurses, nurse practitioners, general surgeons and anesthesiologists. The volunteers’ work ranged from patient tracking to helping coordinate large patient flow at the treatment sites and working with Navy surgeons in the ship’s operating rooms to medical counseling at the treatment sites.

“The men and women who make up the Continuing Promise team come from around the globe, from different military branches and different NGOs, but the one thing they all have in common is a desire to help their fellow man and make a difference in the lives of others,” said Ponds. “They each bring a uniqueness to the mission and have worked together seamlessly to make this deployment a tremendous success.”

During its four-month deployment, Kearsarge completed HCA missions in Nicaragua, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana.

Wasp-class amphibious assault ships like Kearsarge are designed with a variety of expeditionary mission capabilities, including rapid, projected humanitarian assistance worldwide. They also have the physical capacity to transport large amounts of medical and engineering supplies and equipment to most locations around the globe.

One month into the mission, Kearsarge put those capabilities to the test when it was called upon to divert its HCA operations in Colombia and assist with humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HADR) operations in Haiti after the country was struck by four tropical storm systems in less than a month.

Kearsarge’s ability to rapidly move personnel and cargo by helicopter and landing craft made it the ideal platform to support the humanitarian relief mission on short notice.

Embarked Marine and Navy helicopters flew more than 100 missions and landing craft units transported more than 30 loads of supplies. These operations led to the timely delivery of more than 3.3 million pounds of food, water, and other relief supplies.

“I could not have been more proud of the Kearsarge Sailors and all of the embarked units who have supported this mission,” said Capt. Walter Towns, commanding officer, USS Kearsarge. “No one hesitated to do what was necessary to keep this mission on course. We had men and women working in the rain and in the heat, giving their all everyday just to put a smile on the faces of those they were helping. They never once asked for thanks or recognition. For them, it was about being a part of something bigger. This is a deployment they will never forget.”

Kearsarge’s mission exemplified the United States Maritime Strategy which emphasizes deploying forces to build confidence and trust among nations through collective maritime security efforts that focus on common threats and mutual interest.
USS Kearsarge is under the operational control of U.S. 4th Fleet.

U.S. 4th Fleet’s mission is to direct United States naval forces operating in the Caribbean, and Central and South American regions and interact with partner nation navies to shape maritime environment.

The Continuing Promise Caribbean Phase is the second of two HCA deployments to the Southern Command area of focus for 2008. The first Continuing Promise deployment was conducted by USS Boxer (LHD 4) in the Pacific.

Embarked units and organizations aboard Kearsarge for CP included Commander, Amphibious Squadron 8, Fleet Surgical Team 4; U.S. Public Health Service; Navy Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 202; Air Force Civil Engineering Squadron 5’s Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force; contingents of medical personnel from the armed forces of the Canada, The Netherlands, France and Brazil; Navy Assault Craft Unit 2; Naval Beach Group 2; Nongovernmental organizations International Aide, Operation Smile and Project HOPE; U.S. Navy Maritime Civil Affairs Squadron 2; Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28, and Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 464.

Amy Kirk (NNS)

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