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Rye High Grad Delivered “Comfort” Around the World

It’s not often you get the opportunity to positively effect over a million lives, so when Edward Pollard learned the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort was crewing up for a humanitarian mission, he leapt at the chance.


By Jim Byrne

 

It’s not often you get the opportunity to positively effect over a million lives, so when Edward Pollard learned the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort was crewing up for a humanitarian mission, he leapt at the chance.

 

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Pollard, a civil service mariner with Military Sealift Command (MSC), recently returned from the five-month odyssey aboard the 894-foot long vessel, which traveled throughout Latin America and the Caribbean as part of Continuing Promise 2011. The Comfort, one of only two hospital ships among the Navy’s 110 non-combatant vessels, provided aid in Jamaica, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Costa Rica before making its final and most-needed stop August 18 in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. Devastated by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake in January 2010, those who survived are still struggling to just get by.

 

“It truly was an emotional experience and I could not help but think how lucky and fortunate I’ve been growing up in the United States,” said Pollard. “You walk away from these people with a greater appreciation for the simplest of things we normally wouldn’t think twice about, like drinking clean water.”

 

The Rye native was one of the Comfort’s three Watch Officers, charged with maintaining the safe navigation and stability of the ship. Pollard frequently found himself on the bridge in charge of collision avoidance and overall safety, and in port he directed cargo operations and personnel transfer. At several stops, however, the size of the ship, which displaced 70,000 tons and housed nearly 1,000 with room for an additional 1,200 patients, prevented it from mooring at pier. Instead, they anchored as far out as four miles and used two utility boats to ferry doctors, nurses, corpsmen, volunteers, and patients aboard and ashore.

 

“Driving the ‘hospitality boats’ was by far my favorite part of the entire deployment,” said Pollard, who graduated from Rye High School in 2005. “It was where I had the most direct interactions. While the Comfort was where patients received their medical attention, it was the trip over in the utility boats that provided first and final impressions. Approaching the Comfort for many locals was intimidating, and it was my job to provide the highest levels of comfort and hospitality – pun intended.”

 

A14-hospitalityINSIDEPrior to arriving in Haiti, Comfort had sailed close to 7,000 miles, with medical personnel examining over 63,000 patients while performing 1,000-plus life-changing surgeries in the shipboard hospital. They also provided veterinary care to nearly 8,000 animals.

 

“Despite not being a medical professional, I had plenty of patient interaction onboard,” said Pollard. “I had a lot of opportunities to brush up on the years of Spanish I took while at Rye High and Middle School. Everyday I was able to converse more and more with the locals and the patients I was seeing. It was funny when I’d want to practice my Spanish with them and they’d want to practice their English with me.”

 

Pollard graduated from SUNY Maritime College in 2010 with a B.S. in Marine Transportation, and began his career on the dry cargo/ammunition ship USNS Sacagawea during an eight-month deployment to the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. While he now jokes that he can easily go from transporting bombs to band-aids, his experience aboard the Comfort is one that will last forever.

 

“Upon arriving back into Norfolk and completing the deployment, we were greeted by a few Admirals,” said Pollard. “One of them spoke to us and put it best when he explained how for every single patient we helped, it affected their entire family, and in the cases for every adult the ability to provide for their family. Simply put, we reached well over a million people.”


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