- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

ABOARD THE USNS COMFORT The crew of the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort says the wounded who have begun arriving from the battlefield in Iraq, coalition troops and Iraqi prisoners alike, are treated without regard to what side they are on.
"As doctors, we do not differentiate between patients, whether they are friends or foes," said Lt. j.g. Karen Ritchie, 33, of Baltimore, a staff nurse and training officer aboard the Comfort in the Persian Gulf.
During the 1991 Gulf war, the Comfort did not treat a single battlefield casualty. This time, the crew of 1,200 had received 20 casualties by Tuesday.
The wounded began arriving Friday and included coalition forces, Iraqi POWs, guerrillas and civilians. Injuries included gunshot and shrapnel wounds.
"Everybody dreads war and we hope it will end soon. We prefer not to have to perform combat surgery," said Capt. Charles L. Blankenship, who runs the ship. "We prefer to be bored."
Most of the injured were stabilized on the battlefield before being brought to the ship by helicopter. Several operations were performed on the vessel.
Reporters had only a glimpse of a casualty, by chance, when the crew was spotted hurriedly taking an Arab-looking man on a gurney into a room. He was later identified by the crew as Iraqi.
"I would want the war to end right now. It makes me feel sad to see any human being hurt. It doesn't matter to me if I am treating an American military personnel or someone from Iraq," Lt. Ritchie said.
Lt. Ritchie said the Iraqis she treated were calm. "We did well with hand gestures and a short list of translations and two Arabic language translators."
Most of the Comfort's crew members are from the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
The Comfort has 1,000 beds, an emergency room, operating rooms, an intensive-care unit, a blood bank containing more than 3,000 units, and decontamination facilities in case of chemical or nuclear attack.
Among the ship's 62 doctors most of them Navy physicians from Bethesda are two neurosurgeons, a plastic surgeon, even a pediatrician.
One procedure that cannot be done on board is heart surgery.
To make it clearly recognizable as a hospital ship, it is painted white, not gray, and has three large red crosses on each side.
"I hope they treat our boys the same way we are treating theirs," said anesthesiologist Michael Verdolin, 33, of Laurel, Md. "It's sad for me not to see that on the other side, when we are providing their people the best."

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