- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2001

ABOARD THE USNS COMFORT Lt. Beth Montanus has seen her share of trauma as an operating-room nurse at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.
But she has never seen the kind of mass carnage she could be exposed to this week.
Lt. Montanus, 27, and more than 700 other Navy personnel were aboard the hospital ship Comfort as it steamed up the Mid-Atlantic coast yesterday to help victims of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.
After Tuesday's deadly attacks, the 894-foot former tanker ship was called to active duty. It shipped out of Baltimore on Wednesday. It will dock next to the USS Intrepid in midtown Manhattan today and stay as long as needed.
The Comfort's mission was not yet clear as of yesterday when it was off the New Jersey coast but it most likely will be used as a hospital, a transport vessel or a morgue.
Lt. Montanus is in charge of the Comfort's medical-sterilization unit that cleans and checks instruments for the ship's surgeons. She was confident her training will help her work through the shock of the death and destruction in New York.
"All of our reactions on Tuesday were 'I can't believe this,'" she said. "But then we all said to ourselves, 'We have another role here and we need to do it.' We have to do that or else we will lose focus."
The Comfort is the Navy's largest hospital ship. It has 12 operating rooms, radiological equipment and will be staffed today with 250 hospital beds.
"We are a floating hospital," said Cmdr. Ralph Jones, the chief surgeon. "There is no component that is missing."
All aboard from thoracic surgeons to mess specialists to intensive-care nurses tried to prepare themselves for the gruesome mission ahead.
Below deck, in the surgical-preparation area, three operating-room nurses went over the hundreds of small details required in any hospital sea-bound or not.
Petty Officer Patrick McGill, 31, a Salisbury, Md., native and 12-year Navy veteran, saw action during the Persian Gulf war and the humanitarian mission to Haiti in 1994. On the Comfort, he maintains a machine that produces oxygen and nitrogen for surgeons.
Petty Officer McGill said some friends and family members in New York still were unaccounted for when the Comfort left Baltimore. That is what separates this mission from the others, he said.
"I have been in some serious stuff before," he said, looking off the side of the ship toward Delaware. "But, you know, this time it is going to feel so much more personal."
Corpsman Julie Urban, 21, a medic in the intensive-care unit, was shocked by the first word of the attack but "I quickly realized situations like this are what we train for."
Cmdr. Barry Jones, a 22-year Navy veteran and head operating-room nurse, said medical crews undergo mission training every 90 days. The four- to five-day sessions simulate, as much as possible, massive casualties.
"Orthopedics, neurologists, cardiologists, plastic and vascular surgeons. You name it, we can do it," he said.
Even though he is a Gulf war veteran, Cmdr. Barry Jones said his experience and training may not adequately prepare him for the carnage in Manhattan.
"The thing that might really shake us is dealing with death on a continuous basis," he said. "That may challenge even the most trained of us."
In a gleaming room below deck, a circle of bolted-down rings surrounds an operating table, so doctors can attach themselves for stability during surgery at sea.
"We all want to help in any way we can," Lt. Montanus said while prepping the room. "I don't think, though, anything can prepare us for the kind of death and destruction we are going to see."


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