The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.


January 28, 2010

Name: RN Clara Hart
Posting date: 1/28/10
Stationed in: a civilian military hospital in the U.S.
Milblog: From Our Perspective

I’d like to bring to your attention the military personnel now deployed to Haiti. Unlike those deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan, who frequently know they will be leaving at least a month, two months  or even three months ahead of time, the personnel sent to Haiti were given minimal notice. My coworkers and friends deployed on the Navy’s hospital ship USNS Comfort had only four days notice.

Framed Clara COMFORT USNS Comfort big

After they arrived off Haiti’s coast they continued to take on medical personnel from other locations, and now have so many personnel on board they haven’t enough sleeping quarters.They have had to resort to the infamous and much hated “hot racking." While a day shift person is working, a night shift person is sleeping in their shared bed, and vice versa, so the bed never really gets cold -- hence the term “hot racking”.

Haiti is a disaster scene, so the medical personnel must do disaster triage. When evaluating patients they must determine who is viable and who is not. They are forced to make decisions based on injuries, the possibility of survival, and the availability of resources. Many times the causalities from the earthquake are too badly injured, and the medical personnel must make the heartwrenching decision to allow them to die so they can save others.

I recently heard from a friend who has served two tours in combat zones, one in Iraq and one more recently in Afghanistan. He told me Haiti is exponentially worse than anything he ever saw or dealt with in either Iraq or Afghanistan. He has never seen the kinds of things he is currently seeing, or worked as hard for so long.They work 12 hours on with 12 hours off, seven days a week. The Operating Rooms run almost 24 hours a day. There is no rest for the weary, and weary they are. He told me many of the staff, young and inexperienced, are frequently breaking down into tears, and even the seasoned veterans have been impacted.

Many of the patients they are caring for are “dispo” problems. You can care for their injuries, but the ones who need further treatment, rehab or long term care, where do they go then? Even the less acutely injured, where do they go? They no longer have homes to return to. The USNS Comfort was not designed as a long term care hospital. It was designed to be used in times of great need as a place where patients could be stabilized and then flown to tertiary care centers. Where do you send people from a country which never had a decent health care system to begin with? 

Here is a link to an article on the Baltimore Sun website regarding the USNS Comfort and its personnel. Here are some photos from the mission. And here's a link to COMFORT XO, a blog maintained by the ship's executive officer, CAPT John Larnerd.

Those on the USNS Comfort and those on the ground -- Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen -- are facing something difficult, and need us to remember them. Please keep all who are deployed to Haiti in your thoughts and prayers.


Compassion is another paradox. As much as we may want to help the wounded in Haiti, I think your post and the Baltimore Sun article show the limits of our means.

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