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Comfort III (T-AH-20)

1987–

The third U.S. Navy ship named for the general word classification associated with hospital ships. The first Comfort (ex-Havana), classified to AH-3 on 17 July 1920, served from 1917–1924. Comfort (APH-1), an auxiliary transport fitted to evacuate wounded, was renamed Tryon on 13 August 1942, prior to her commissioning. The second Comfort (AH-6) was transferred to the Army on 19 April 1946, and served from 1944–1946. 

III

(T-AH-20: displacement 69,360; length 894'; beam 106'; draft 33'; speed 17 knots; complement 62; armament none, aircraft helicopter landing deck; class Mercy)

The third Comfort (T-AH-20) was laid down as San Clemente class merchant oil tanker Rose City on 1 May 1975 at San Diego, Calif., by National Steel and Shipbuilding Co.; launched on 1 February 1976; subsequently acquired by the Military Sealift Command (MSC); christened on 15 August 1987; sponsored by Mrs. Rose Narva, wife of Rear Adm. William M. Narva, Medical Corps, USN, Attending Physician to Congress; and placed in service with the MSC on 1 December 1987.

Comfort III (T-AH-20) 1987–Ships Seal

Shield

The Red Cross and life preserver allude to Comfort’s humanitarian mission. The serpent entwined around the trident is reminiscent of the Staff of Aesculapius, the mythological god of medicine and healing. The ropes on the life preserver form an illusion of the Roman numeral “XX,” the ship’s hull number. 

Crest

The demi-sun, adapted from the Japanese flag, is surrounded by gold rays symbolizing the two Japanese attacks on the previous Comfort (AH-6) — a bombing attack 22 miles southeast of Leyte on 24 October 1944, and a kamikaze suicide plane off Okinawa on 28 April 1945. The dolphins, known as the sailor’s friend, are each charged with a star to commemorate the two battle stars that the second Comfort received for her World War II service. 

Motto

On a scroll Azure doubled Argent, the words CURARE AEGRA PERMARINUM in Argent. 

Comfort deployed to Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm (August 1990–April 1991). The ship’s medical teams saw more than 8,000 outpatients, admitted 700 inpatients, and performed 337 complex surgical procedures that often proved impossible to perform in the limited combat hospitals ashore. 

Following the Haitian Army’s overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in September 1991, a succession of governments led to sectarian violence, and in May 1994 the Haitian Army installed Supreme Court Justice Emile Jonassaint as provisional president. The United Nations authorized Operation Sea Signal to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees, and in June 1994 Comfort deployed to Kingston, Jamaica, where she served as an afloat migrant processing center for Haitian migrants. The ship provided basic support services, and her medical teams established an operating room and an inpatient hospital with a 50-bed capability. The situation within Haiti, meanwhile, deteriorated, and the UN authorized force to restore order. 

The U.S. initiated Operations Support Democracy and Uphold/Restore DemocracyUphold Democracy for a peaceful entry into Haiti, and Restore Democracy in the event of resistance.  Comfort shifted from Sea Signal to Uphold Democracy when the Haitians agreed to allow the Americans to land peacefully in August and September. The hospital ship hove-to off Port-Au-Prince, providing surgical support for U.S. contingency operations ashore. Her medical teams established a 250-bed hospital facility that helped many of the 35,000 Cuban and Haitian migrants in the area, and assisted in an effort to rebuild the local health care system. The ship came about in October, and on 31 March 1995, the U.S. transferred peacekeeping functions to international forces. 

When al-Qaeda terrorists attacked the United States on 11 September 2001, Comfort -- Comdr. Mary M. Harrahill, Office-in-Charge, Naval Personnel -- lay berthed at Baltimore, Md. The MSC normally prepared the ship to be ready to sail in five days, but about 150 sailors from National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., together with others from additional east coast commands, augmented the crew, and the ship stood down the channel at 1500 the following day. Comfort reached Naval Weapon Station Earle, N.J., at 1430 on 14 September 2001, where she embarked additional people and medical relief supplies. In an hour, she proceeded to New York City.

An eerie sky silhouettes Comfort as she steams past the Statue of Liberty into New York Harbor in the wake of the terrorist attacks, 14 September 2001. (Journalist 1st Class Keres Preston, U.S. Navy photograph, Sealift, October 2011)
An eerie sky silhouettes Comfort as she steams past the Statue of Liberty into New York Harbor in the wake of the terrorist attacks, 14 September 2001. (Journalist 1st Class Keres Preston, U.S. Navy photograph, Sealift, October 2011)

“The twin towers are actually a navigational landmark on my charts,” Second Mate Sean Tortora, Comfort’s navigator and a native New Yorker, grimly noted. “When I took the charts out in Baltimore, I was struck by the fact that they are no longer there.” 

“I remember standing on deck to tie Comfort up and smelling the smoke,” James White, the ship’s first officer, recalled. “Even more chilling were the pieces of paper that were flying through the air, sticking to the side of the ship and settling in the water. These pieces of paper had been in the offices of the World Trade Center 18 miles away. It was horrific to see Ground Zero burning when we arrived and it was still smoldering when we left. This was a time when everyone in the country wanted to help out and we were lucky to be able to do something. I always say it was MSC’s finest hour, with Comfort being a very visible part of the United States’ supportive response.” 

As Comfort rounded the end of Manhattan Island, hundreds of flickering candles from people gathered for candlelight vigils guided her in. Police boats escorted the hospital ship as she moored at Manhattan’s Pier 92 at 2000. George Washington (CVN-73), meanwhile, sailed from Naval Station Norfolk, Va., to protect New York City, the aircraft carrier responding to tasking from the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) while the ship and her aircraft protected the east coast and Comfort. Fast sealift ship Denebola (T-AKR-289), berthed at The Sullivans Pier on Staten Island, N.Y., teamed with the Homeport Rescue Center, a nearby warehouse, and supported relief workers through 19 December. 

Comfort’s loudspeaker played Lee Greenwood’s song “Proud to be an American” as the ship sailed from New York on 1 October 2001. Some of her crewmembers wore New York fire and police department hats, and onlookers on Pier 92 waved and cheered, yelling “Thank you.” During her mission of mercy, Comfort provided nearly 17,000 meals and washed 4,400-pounds of laundry for 2,250 guests, many of them weary rescue workers. She returned to Baltimore the next day. 

Comfort deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom (January–June 2003). During 56 days of operations in the Arabian Gulf, she served as an afloat trauma center and provided expert medical care to nearly 700 people, including wounded U.S. servicemembers, as well as about 200 injured Iraqi civilians. 

Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico on 29 August 2005. A catastrophic storm surge inundated the levees along the Mississippi River and the rising waters flooded 80% of New Orleans, La. Comfort steamed to Pascagoula, Miss., and during 12 days in September, her medical teams treated nearly 1,500 people. The ship then pulled into New Orleans and provided care to residents and emergency workers into October during the relief efforts following Katrina, as well as Hurricane Rita, which further devastated the Gulf Coast. Seventy-six USCG and USCG Auxiliary aircraft rescued 12,535 people during 1,817 sorties. Altogether, more than 5,000 Coast Guardsmen saved 33,545 lives. Over 70 fixed wing aircraft and more than 350 helicopters from all the services flew missions during the disaster. 

Comfort sailed on a Partnership for the Americas humanitarian assistance voyage to Latin American waters and the Caribbean (June–October 2007). Medical professionals from the USN, USAF, USCG, and Public Health Service, as well as Canadian troops, and civilian volunteers from a number of nonprofit organizations staffed the ship’s hospital and treated more than 98,000 people in 12 countries. Comfort carried on her humanitarian mission during Continuing Promise from April–July 2009. Serving as the principal facility for humanitarian and civic assistance missions, the ship’s medical teams treated more than 100,000 patients in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Antigua and Barbuda, Panama, Colombia, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. 

A magnitude 7.3 earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, killing an estimated 230,000 people, on 12 January 2010. The U.S. initiated Operation Unified Response to aid the victims. At the peak level of Unified Response 23 Navy ships, including Comfort, participated, together with 10 Coast Guard ships, 264 U.S. fixed-wing aircraft, and 57 helicopters and tiltrotor aircraft. Most of these ships came about by 24 March, although relief efforts continued into the summer.

Comfort anchors near Varreux, Haiti, one of the landing sites that helicopters use to transport earthquake victims to the ship, 2010. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun, undated photograph donated to the Navy, Sealift, March 2010)
Comfort anchors near Varreux, Haiti, one of the landing sites that helicopters use to transport earthquake victims to the ship, 2010. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun, undated photograph donated to the Navy, Sealift, March 2010)
Boatswain’s Mate Samuel Thicklen (left), a Haitian native serving as one of Comfort’s civil service mariners, helps move a patient from the ship to a shore-based aftercare facility, 2010. (Undated U.S. Navy photograph, Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Edwardo Proano, Sealift, March 2010)
Boatswain’s Mate Samuel Thicklen (left), a Haitian native serving as one of Comfort’s civil service mariners, helps move a patient from the ship to a shore-based aftercare facility, 2010. (Undated U.S. Navy photograph, Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Edwardo Proano, Sealift, March 2010)
Baby Ester, born to a mother injured during the earthquake, is the first child born on board Comfort during Unified Response, 2010. (Undated U.S. Navy Photograph 100121-N-6410J-485, Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Matthew Jackson)
Baby Ester, born to a mother injured during the earthquake, is the first child born on board Comfort during Unified Response, 2010. (Undated U.S. Navy Photograph 100121-N-6410J-485, Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Matthew Jackson)

Detailed history pending. 

Mark L. Evans 

17 November 2015

Published: Mon Jul 22 15:18:11 EDT 2019