Story by MC3(SW) Amanda S. Kitchner, Amphibious Squadron 11 Public Affairs
SOUTH CHINA SEA – Forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard’s (LHD 6) joint medical-dental department is responsible for the care of more than 3,000 Sailors and Marines.
Ship’s medical is comprised of two main departments, medical and dental. While underway, Fleet Surgical Team 7 and hospital corpsman assigned to 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) also embark with the ship.
The medical division provides 24/7 emergency care, sick call for diagnosis and pharmaceutical needs, stand-by medical responders for high-risk evolutions, and minor procedural care that can be performed on a moments notice.
“Our primary mission as a department is medical readiness,” said Lt. Krystal Martin, medical division officer. “We must be sure that we are as ready as we can be for any medical emergency and that our Sailors and embarked Marines are well cared for.”
The dental division is equipped to provide care for anything from basic hygiene and dental examinations to minor surgeries such as removal and reconstruction.
“It’s extremely difficult to maintain an aggressive oral hygiene routine underway,” said Lt. Brittany Kurzweg, dental department head and senior dental officer of Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Readiness Group. “So we are here to not only make sure that Sailors have the care they need to maintain good dental health, but also to assist with any treatment that they may need.”
Fleet Surgical Team (FST) 7– based out of Okinawa, Japan– embarks the Bonhomme Richard during deployments to augment the ship’s medical team to help provide care for the additional 2,000 embarked Marines from the 31st MEU.
“We work to provide as much quality care as we possibly can at our level,” said Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Alex Salinas, surgical technician, FST 7. “We will exhaust all of our resources to ensure that the patient is well taken care of until the issue is resolved or until they can be relocated to a facility that can provide definitive care.”
The 31st MEU also has a complement of 34 corpsman and two medical officers that comprise their own medical department. During deployments when the 31st MEU integrates with the Bonhomme Richard, the respective medical departments combine forces to ensure care for both the ship’s company and embarked Marines.
“We are here to support the 31st MEU with any medical or dental issues that may arise, both in day-to-day activities and during the upcoming exercises CERTEX [certification exercise], AIT [amphibious integration training], and Cobra Gold,” said Chief Hospital Corpsman Paul Sexton, leading chief petty officer, health service support, Combat Logistics Battalion 31. “We also assist the shipboard corpsman with the care of their Sailors and share our unique training with them just as they share their training with us.”
The medical department houses a fully functional blood bank, chemistry lab, intensive care unit, x-ray lab, optical and aural screening site, and medical equipment repair shop. Each of these assets combine to make up the largest and most capable medical facility aboard a combatant ship in the 7th fleet area of operations.
“We are the only forward-deployed combatant ship with medical facilities and capabilities of this scale and the second largest shipboard medical facility in the area,” said Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Raymond Meyers, medical-dental departmental leading chief petty officer. “Resources like that paired with the very capable personnel on my staff, I feel like I have the best medical department anywhere in the world.”