Since March 30 the USNS Comfort has been docked in New York Harbor to be a back up hospital resource in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. It was originally intended to take care of non-coronavirus patients, to give some slack to the New York City hospitals that were being overwhelmed with the sick and the dying over the last months.
The short video you will see here is instructive of at least two things: the adaptability of the Comfort, which was required to eventually take in COVID-19 patients, and the powerful impact that it had on those who work on the USNS Comfort.
As you may, or may not know, the USNS Comfort’s crew is made up of both Navy and civilian personnel. The Navy Hospital Corps, with its Doctors, nurses, Corpsmen, dentists, radiologist, and various other medical disciplines do all of the medical work that is familiar to any large hospital. But much of the operational tasks of the ship are done by civilian crew members.
In the case of this short video, you will meet Joe Watts, the Chief Engineer for the USNS Comfort. He is from the Boston, MA area and you can hear it in his accent. He simply gives you some of the details he was in charge of on board the Comfort. When the Comfort had to adapt to taking on COVID-19 patients he had to re-arrange the ship to be able to maintain the necessary social distancing and to reorganize the movement on the ship.
In his final comment you will hear him say, “It’s been a privilege and an honor to work with this great group of people…”
The video abruptly stops there, so you do not hear him say these last words, “and now we get to go home.”
It seems a simple statement. It is the kind of thing that people say at the end of a large and difficult project that has finally been completed and done well. But those words are weighted with all of the stress and love that he witnessed and participated in while the USNS Comfort helped in the monumental circumstances of this pandemic in the epicenter of its outbreak, New York City. As you will hear, his voice shudders with the emotion of what they had all done together in this effort.
Hear the story from civil service mariner Joe Watts in the video below.
The Veterans Site wishes to express its thanks to the Navy and civilian crew of the USNS Comfort. Now, indeed, you can “go home”, knowing that you have not only helped to serve the sick and dying in a difficult time, but that you have added yet another page to the Navy’s history books. We wish you all, “Fair Winds and Following Seas.
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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.