Enduring Promise: Serving as a Foreign Policy Advisor Aboard the USNS Comfort

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The hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) is anchored off the coast of Colombia during an 11 week mission to offer medical treatment aboard the ship and at a land-based medical site.
The hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) is anchored off the coast of Colombia during an 11 week mission to offer medical treatment aboard the ship and at a land-based medical site.

Enduring Promise: Serving as a Foreign Policy Advisor Aboard the USNS Comfort

The 32 days I spent on the USNS Comfort in October and November 2018 left a lasting impression on how I view our military’s important role in supporting global peace and security. It also demonstrated the value of an embedded Foreign Policy Advisor, or POLAD, to our colleagues in uniform. 

As part of U.S. Southern Command’s Enduring Promise mission, the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort deployed to Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and Honduras from October 10 to December 10, 2018. For this mission, we worked to provide medical assistance to needy populations and were joined by international partners, such as the White Helmets of Argentina, as well as military medical personnel from Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Peru.

As the sole representative of the Department of State among a crew of 1,100 (U.S. Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force officers and enlisted personnel, NGO volunteers, and partner nation military officers), each day I was on duty at sea or on land, I shared my knowledge and experience of the region and my perspective on how our Embassy country teams help to conduct U.S. foreign policy. 

Onboard briefing at sea in the galley for USNS Comfort crew on the political context of the Enduring Promise 2018 Mission in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and Honduras on October 18, 2018.

Reporting back to U.S. Southern Command, the Fourth Fleet, and the Department of State, I understood that I provided an invaluable first-hand perspective on the incredibly inspiring and committed medical assistance the USNS Comfort crew provided each day that we were docked in a partner nation’s port. 

I soon learned that it was a compliment for my colleagues to tell me how “tactical” I had become jumping in and out of helicopters and eating military MREs (Meals Ready to Eat).  My own “battle rhythm” included accompanying the Comfort’s captains for key leadership engagements, helping the ship’s chaplain to draft a prayer for the mission’s opening ceremony, and attending the rehearsal of the ship’s color guard to ensure proper protocol with the host nation.

With the USNS Comfort team in Esmeraldas, Ecuador on October 26, 2018.

I will never forget the kindness and compassion I witnessed from so many of our brothers and sisters in the armed forces. Whether it was through the laughter of playing with children before they saw a pediatrician or the strong arms of a sailor who helped an 85-year-old man walk for the first time after receiving cataract surgery, the Comfort’s crew touched the lives of thousands of ordinary people and left behind countless memories of the good the United States can bring to the world.

I am deeply honored to have been a part of USNS Comfort’s dedicated team, which truly lives up to its motto -- “Care of the Sick on the Sea.”  My deployment as the POLAD embarked on the USNS Comfort Mission  -- the hospital ship’s sixth deployment to the region since 2007 -- serves as a reflection of the United States’ enduring promise of friendship, partnership, and solidarity with the Americas -- and a recognition of the vital role of diplomacy in working hand-in-hand with our military to support peace and security.

Visiting a USNS Comfort medical site in Paita, Peru on November 3, 2018.

About the Author: Mariju Bofill serves as a Foreign Policy Advisor (POLAD) to the Department of Defense’s U.S. Southern Command.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.