Editor's note: Airman 1st Class Benjamin W. Stratton, with the 5th Bomb Wing Public Affairs Office at Minot Air Force Base, was deployed for four months on the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) for Continuing Promise 2009 mission. Stratton responded to questions from Eloise Ogden, regional editor at The Minot Daily News, about his deployment.
Q. Did you volunteer for this duty or how did it come about?
A: My NCOIC (noncommissioned officer in charge) and supervisor told our office about the deployment during a morning meeting and it sounded pretty cool. So I researched it and then volunteered for it.
Submitted Photo --
Airman 1st Class Benjamin Stratton of Minot Air Force Base focuses in for a photo at Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in his
humantarian trip with Continuing Promise 2009.
Q. Were you the only person from Minot AFB?
A: This year, I was the only person to deploy for this deployment. Last year about 50 individuals from the 5th Civil Engineer Squadron deployed on a similar humanitarian deployment onboard the USS Kearsarge.
Q. Did everyone travel on the ship Comfort?
A: Yes, the platform the mission was conducted on was the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20). (He arrived in Norfolk, Va., March 21 to begin his deployment with the Comfort April 1. The Comfort returned to Norfolk July 31 and he left Norfolk Aug. 1.)
Q. What was the length of your trip and what was your main job? What countries did you visit?
A: This was a four-month humanitarian and civic assistance mission to Latin America and the Caribbean region. We visited seven countries including: Haiti, Dominican Republic, Antigua and Barbuda, Panama, Colombia, El Salvador and Nicaragua. My role on the mission was to provide print journalism and photographic support to the public affairs office onboard the Comfort. Our mission was to document every aspect of the mission so the world would know what we were doing.
Q. What was the main purpose of the mission?
A: The U.S. uniformed services actively participate in more humanitarian missions than war missions. The Comfort brought medical, dental and civic action programs to these seven countries. Continuing Promise offered training for U.S. military personnel and partner nation forces while providing valuable services to communities in need. The humanitarian-focused mission provided medical treatment to more than 100,000 patients.
Q. How many in the total traveling group and what military branches or groups did they represent?
A: The operation was supported by U.S. and international military medical personnel, U.S. government agencies, regional health ministries, non-governmental organizations and U.S. academic institutions. There was approximately 1,200 personnel embarked throughout the mission living, eating and sleeping onboard the Comfort.
Q. What is most significant to you about this duty or the mission (or both) that you would like to share with readers?
A: This was a great experience and an excellent opportunity to be a part of something bigger than myself and the 5th Bomb Wing. It was great having the opportunity working with all those people from so many different walks of life. I mean, you had members from every U.S. uniformed service, as well as several universities and church groups, not to mention the international community involved in the mission. My favorite in particular to work with were the Canadians and the Dutch. But that doesn't even begin to list all the other nations involved.
Q. Is this the same mission CE people from Minot AFB participated in earlier?
A: Our CE folks were embarked on a Continuing Promise mission in 2008. That mission had a greater focus on civic assistance and reconstructing weather-battered nations. This year's mission had a greater focus on humanitarian assistance and medical care. The Comfort is virtually a floating hospital. During the Reagan Administration, two of these such ships were constructed by converting decommissioned oil tankers into hospital ships. The Comfort is assigned to the Atlantic and its sister ship, USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), is assigned to the Pacific.
Q. Is another humanitarian mission like this being planned?
A: Yes. Before we even completed this year's mission, planning had already begun for next year's mission. However, the Comfort will not be a participant next year. They will be utilizing amphibious ships, much like the Kearsarge our CE guys deployed on last year.
Q. What is your home town, how long have you been in the Air Force and your present job?
A: I am originally from Seeley Lake, Mont. I have been in the Air Force for more than two years now. My job in the Air Force is a public affairs specialist, however, my duty title here at Minot AFB is a staff writer and base online editor. I am tasked with ensuring our weekly content is posted to our Web site (www.minot.af.mil) and all our information is up-to-date on an ongoing basis.
For more information about the Continuing Promise 2009 mission, visit the mission Web site at (www.southcom.mil/continuingpromise2009).