April 14th 2020

MM&P Federal Employees Membership Group Vice President Randall Rockwood, who served as master of 21 Military Sealift Command ships—including USNS COMFORT–during his 34-year career, was interviewed in a podcast produced by the American Maritime Partnership called “Behind the Scenes of the USNS COMFORT and USNS MERCY and the Mission to Combat COVID-19.” Click here to listen.

USNS COMFORT is currently stationed in New York Harbor. USNS MERCY is stationed in Los Angeles. The hospital ships were deployed by the US to provide a full spectrum of medical care to impacted communities during the national coronavirus pandemic.

In the podcast, Rockwood describes the operations and capabilities of the ships, as well as the work and responsibilities of the Civil Service mariners who crew them.

“Captain Rockwood’s perspective highlights the importance of American maritime and its readiness to always urgently deliver for fellow Americans and communities in need,” says Ken Nahigian, who narrates the podcast.

“These incredible selfless Americans not only move critical goods between American cities but they are the eyes and ears of our waterways and our ports.”

“And we are now seeing that with COMFORT and MERCY as they rise to the occasion to help as America needs maritime the most.”

In the interview, Rockwood describes what it takes to activate the ships and how the master juggles the logistics and the onload with the chief mate and the chief steward.

The hospital has their own supplies which also need to be loaded. “The doctors and nurses put them into their final locations but the civilians get the medical supplies on board,” he says

Each ship has a crew of about 71 Civil Service mariners, depending on the mission.

“The hospital ships represent soft power,” he says. “When they are present, they are bringing all the best of the US to wherever they happen to be… They spread the goodwill that the US is known for and they’re always welcome.”

In the interview, Rockwood discusses the importance of the Jones Act as well as how MM&P represents the interests of the Civil Service mariners who crew the ships in the government fleet.

“I have a genuine personal concern for the 71 Civil Service mariners on board the ship,” he says.

The hospital ships usually provide help to foreign countries in alternating years, he says.

“Two hospital ships providing services simultaneously is very atypical, but considering the extent of the coronavirus threat, activating both ships was a good idea,” he says.