The massive Mercy-Class Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) arrived off the coast of hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico earlier this week, as a part of a government wide response to the destruction wrought by Hurricane Maria on September 20th.  The ship’s presence came amid a flurry of political posturing and accusations between prominent Americans on either side of the political fence, with President Trump touting the government’s response to the storm as unprecedented, and opponents like Hillary Clinton decrying the slow progress of aid to the region.

Regardless of the politics of the day, the USNS Comfort is equipped to do some real good for the struggling population of Puerto Rico.  The floating medical treatment facility is staffed with more than 800 personnel, including Navy medical and support staff assembled from 22 commands, as well as over 70 civil service mariners trained specifically to support populations in crisis.

Sailors provide medical services in a simulated man-overboard drill held aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) en route to Puerto Rico

The huge vessel boasts one of the largest trauma facilities in the United States, complete with four functioning X-Ray machines, a CAT Scan unit, a full dental suite, optometry lens laboratory, physical therapy center, pharmacy, angiography suite and two oxygen-producing plants.  It is not only a floating hospital, it’s a floating hospital that is likely better equipped than the brick and mortar one in your town.

Volunteer trauma surgeons work to save a patient aboard the USNS Comfort near Haiti

Although the Comfort, and its sister ship that serves as the class’ namesake, the Mercy, are U.S. Navy ships, they come equipped with no offensive capabilities whatsoever, and exist solely to provide care to those in need on a level unrivaled by any other expeditionary organization.  The vessel began its life in 1976 as a San-Clemente class oil tanker named the SS Rose City.  It was converted and renamed in a ceremony on December 1st of 1987, when it began its new life in support of humanitarian operations the world over.

The USNS Comfort from above

More than a thousand beds now fill the empty caverns of the Comfort’s hull, and the ship’s flat deck offers the perfect flight deck for military and civilian helicopters to ferry those in need to and from the massive medical staff on board.  It also offers stable and secure administrative amenities, permitting leaders in disaster stricken areas a place to engage with one another and U.S. Navy personnel to establish the best possible courses of action to suit the needs of those in harm’s way.

Navy Lt. j.g. Shiju SantaNivas treats a patient aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 4

Just such a summit on board the Comfort is expected to begin any day now, as Puerto Rican leaders and stake holders in the rescue and relief effort meet in the office space aboard the vessel to coordinate not only the Comfort’s response, but that of the multi-agency and branch governmental effort already underway.

For many in Puerto Rico, things have become desperate.  Much of the island remains without power or clean drinking water, and efforts to repair necessary elements of infrastructure like roads and power lines are underway, but it’s slow, painstaking work.  The arrival of the USNS Comfort doesn’t mean an end to the suffering for many in Puerto Rico, but it does mean a dramatic improvement in the government’s ability to respond to it.

There’s a great deal of work ahead for the crew of the USNS Comfort and for the people of Puerto Rico, but regardless of where you land on the politics of the ship’s timeline, one thing’s for sure, all of America is rooting for them.