Military Medics on US Navy Hospital Ships

Navy Hospital Ships

USNS Comfort passing the Statue of Liberty

World War II Hospital Ships

The US Navy maintains two hospital ships that remain on stand-by for immediate deployment at any moment – the USNS Mercy, delivered for service as a Navy hospital ship in 1986, and the USNS Comfort, delivered in 1987. These San Clemente-class supertankers provide some of the best medical treatment available in the world to military personnel and civilians alike.

Because of their prime objective as military hospitals, military medics on US Navy hospital ships provide emergency medical services to all US combat forces during times of war and other missions. The ships can be maneuvered into place near enough to the war zone to allow almost immediate care to wounded soldiers while keeping them out of harm’s way.

When not actively participating in military maneuvers, the US Navy’s hospital ships are available to support in disaster relief and other humanitarian operations around the world. The USNS Comfort was deployed to New York Harbor after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and it arrived in Haiti just four days after the massive earthquake that devastated the island nation in January of 2010.

When not deployed, the US Navy hospital ships are stationed in either San Diego, California, or Baltimore, Maryland. When in port, a small contingent of military and medical personnel remain on duty but each ship can be made fully operational, with full crew on board, in as few as five days.

The military medic on board these floating hospitals has the most modern medical technologies available. Each ship is outfitted as follows:

  • 12 fully equipped operating rooms
  • 1,000 patient beds
  • An Intensive Care Unit (ICU)
  • CT scanning capabilities
  • Digital radiology technologies
  • A complete medical laboratory
  • A pharmacy
  • An optometry lab
  • Dental services
  • Two oxygen-generating plants
  • A morgue
  • Deck for landing large military / ambulance helicopters
  • Side ports that allow for easy retrieval of patients from the seas

Both current US Navy hospital ships are clearly marked with the red cross on a white background that represents the safe haven of a hospital facility as mandated in the First Geneva Convention. As hospital facilities, these ships cannot be armed. Ships carrying armaments are considered battleships and are subject to enemy attack. Attack on an unarmed, properly marked military hospital ship is considered an act of war.

Further protections for hospital ships are provided under the Hague Convention X of 1907. Regardless of home port, every hospital ship must provide assistance to the sick and injured of every nationality and must be clearly marked and lighted as befitting a hospital ship. No hospital ship can be used in battle nor can any hospital ship interfere with or hinder the maneuvers of enemy combat vessels in its vicinity. Furthermore, hospital ships must allow enemy combatants on board as desired to confirm the status of the ship as an unarmed hospital facility, not a battleship.