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USNS Comfort

Jan. 1, 2010
This month the spotlight is on a public health ship, not on a dental hygienist.

by Christine Nathe, RDH, MS
[email protected]

This month the spotlight is on a public health ship, not on a dental hygienist.

The ship — the USNS Comfort (TAH-20) — has played a valuable role globally in health-care delivery. The primary mission of the Medical Treatment Facility (MEDTRE FAC) in the USNS Comfort is to provide a mobile, flexible, and rapidly responsive afloat medical capability for acute medical and surgical care in support of amphibious task forces, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force elements, forward deployed Navy elements of the fleet, and fleet activities located in areas where hostilities may be imminent. As a secondary mission, MEDTRE FAC Comfort is capable of providing a full hospital service asset for use by other government agencies involved in the support of relief and humanitarian operations worldwide.1

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The USNS Comfort is operated and navigated by a crew of 68 civil service mariners (CIVMARS) from the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command (MSC). The ship is equivalent to the height of a 10-story building and approximately the same length as three football fields.1 Continuing Promise 2009 is an annual humanitarian civic assistance operation supported by U.S. and international military medical personnel, U.S. government agencies, regional health ministries, nongovernmental organizations, and U.S. academic institutions.2

The primary focus of the medical teams was to provide a range of health-care services ashore. On a case-by-case basis, select patients received medical or dental care on the ship. The Continuing Promise teams partner with local health-care providers and community officials to provide free medical care to communities with limited access to medical treatment. In addition, civic action programs were designed to assist each participating nation in providing local communities with a wide range of construction capabilities.2

The USPHS commissioned officers have the opportunity to work in conjunction with this diverse staff, which include Active Duty Navy, U.S. Air Force, Air National Guard, U.S. Army, U.S. Naval Reserves, U.S. Coast Guard, and volunteer providers of Project HOPE and Operation Smile, and nongovernmental health organizations.

Next month's column will spotlight a USPHS Commissioned Officer's history with the USNS Comfort.


For more information on the USNS Comfort, please see the following Web sites:


About the Author

Christine Nathe, RDH, MS, is a professor and graduate program director at the University of New Mexico, Division of Dental Hygiene, in Albuquerque, N.M. She is also the author of “Dental Public Health” (, which is in its second edition with Prentice Hall. She can be reached at [email protected] or (505) 272-8147.