While treating patients in Guatemala in late
February, Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Michael
Woodall and his colleagues had to convince
one woman that they meant her no harm.
Like hundreds of other locals, she came to the clinic
the U.S. Navy had set up — in her case, hoping to find
some relief from a gastrointestinal issue. Once inside the
perimeter, she became scared and tried to sneak away.
“We had to convince her the doctor wasn’t going
to hurt her,” said Woodall, who is stationed at Naval
Hospital Pensacola, Fla. Eventually, they overcame
both the woman’s fears, and the language barrier, and
“She ended up coming back a couple of days later,
feeling better and thanking us,” Woodall said.
While it is easy enough to take gratification from
small victories like this, Woodall and his colleagues,
who spoke on the phone with Seapower from Guatemala,
understand that smiles alone cannot justify the expenditure of assets and resources required to pull off
something like Continuing Promise 2017, the operation
that sent them to Honduras, Guatemala and Colombia in
the first place.
“We want the governments of these countries,
and all the volunteers, to see us as the partner working alongside them that they would prefer to have,”
said mission commander Capt. Errin Armstrong,
commander, Destroyer Squadron 40 and Task Force
48 (CTF- 48).
“It’s all about partnership,” he said. “You can’t
Supported by U.S. Southern Command and U.S.
Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. Fourth Fleet,
Continuing Promise is one of the Navy’s highest-
profile humanitarian operations. Along with medical
and dental personnel, veterinarians and a contingent
of civil-assistance teams play roles in building trust
among the local populaces in host nations.
This year, the teams anticipated providing free care
and services to roughly 15,000 people in the three
While past Continuing Promise exercises were
large-scale productions, 2017’s is considerably less
so. In previous years, teams entered host countries
from USNS Comfort or USNS Mercy, large hospital
ships. This year, they moved into the area of operation on the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek/
Fort Story, Va.-based USNS Spearhead, an expeditionary fast transport that carries a crew of around 22
The step toward austerity is more than a nod to
the tight financial climate in the United States, mission participants say. It required them to operate
in scenarios more akin to what they would find in
emergency disaster-relief and combat situations. And
they certainly were presented with cases that they
would never see among patient populations in stateside clinics.
The teams were required to deal with complicated
conditions and ailments there on the ground, rather than
flying patients over to Comfort or Mercy, with their state-of-the-art operating rooms, on medevac helicopters.
Preparations for the new and lean approach began
six to eight months before the teams deployed from
their homeports and duty stations in Norfolk, Va., and
Jacksonville and Pensacola, Fla.
With the anticipation of seeing between 500 and 600
patients a day once in theater, Armstrong said, they
brought the disparate teams together on Jan. 19 at
Mayport Naval Station, Fla. There, they set up mobile
kitchen trailers, showers and medical tents — everything they would use in the host countries — as a dress
rehearsal of sorts.
Satisfied with the results, Spearhead dropped them
off in Guatemala on Jan. 30 and they went to work at
the primary-care site set up by U.S. Navy Seabees, with
assistance from the host-nation military and health
‘YOU CAN’T SURGE TRUST’
CONTINUING PROMISE 2017 PROVIDES PATIENT CARE, TRAINING FOR CAREGIVERS
BY NICK ADDE, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
WWW.SEAPOWERMAGAZINE.ORG 22 SEAPOWER APRIL 2017
SPECIAL REPORT: PARTNERS IN GLOBAL PRESENCE