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UMFK nursing alumni participates in Operation Iraqi Freedom serving on board hospital ship in the Persian Gulf

May 16, 2003

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Daniel McClure, RN, a 2001 nursing graduate of the University of Maine at Fort Kent has been putting his degree to use and serving his country on board the United States Navy Ship Comfort in an undisclosed location in the northern Persian Gulf.

McClure, an Ensign in the U.S. Navy and a native of Hampden, Maine, is one of 166 Navy nurses assigned to the hospital ship to treat casualties from both sides of the war in Iraq.

The USNS Comfort, one of two hospital ships operated by Military Sealift Command, is designed to provide emergency, on-site care for U.S. combatant forces deployed in war or other operations. The Comfort is a converted San Clemente-class super tanker and was delivered to the Navy in 1987. It is built of nearly 70,000 tons of steel and is painted white with three red crosses to distinguish it from the camouflage gray of battleships.

The hospital ship has 1,000 beds, 12 operating rooms, an emergency room, an ICU, a blood bank containing more than 3,000 units, decontamination facilities in case of chemical or nuclear attack and a staff that includes 62 doctors and 700 corpsmen, as well as nurses.

American, British and Iraqi patients are flown in by U.S. military helicopter, which can land on the ship's flight deck, or shuttled in by boat.

According to an article on NurseWeek.com, the Comfort is one component of the military's medical response network. During the fighting to liberate Iraq more than 1,000 Navy, Army, Marine and Air Force nurses were part of nearly every layer of care, working close to the frontlines in mobile field hospitals and forward surgical teams, as well as giving advanced care away from the fighting in MASH units or combat support hospitals.

From there, the seriously injured went on to the Comfort or on to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, the largest American hospital outside of the United States.

The Comfort is at full staff and capable of handling a significant influx of casualties, although they haven't come close to that capacity. As of April 11, 135 American and British soldiers had died in the Gulf conflict which started on March 19.

In an interview with freelance journalist Janet Wells, Lieutenant Commander Ed, Austin, the Comfort's public affairs officer, stated "that almost 400 American soldiers had been wounded, along with scores of Iraqi soldiers and civilians. The Comfort was averaging about 100 patients on board at a time, with the busiest day seeing about 20 casualties arriving in 24 hours."

The Comfort has psychologists and chaplains on board to help practitioners, as well as patients.

"It's kind of a catch-22 being over here," said McClure, who also works in casualty receiving. "It's exciting working traumas, but the downside is, it's humans we are treating. The carnage is rough."

"But I know that we've done a good job," added McClure. "What we've done will make that person's life better, even if they lost a leg or suffered horrific injuries."

McClure, who spent 12 years in the nuclear weapons field aboard a Navy submarine before switching to nursing five years ago, has a wife and 13 year-old stepson at home. "The hardest thing is seeing the injured Iraqi kids," he said of his job. "Just seeing one is too many."

McClure served on board the Comfort when it sailed last summer to the Baltic on a humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and medical joint training exercise involving more than 3,500 people from seven different countries. The project Rescuer, Medical Exercise Central Europe (RESCUER/MEDCEUR) 2002 was a two-part mission that took place in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

McClure earned his nursing degree at UMFK while serving in the United States Navy. He was very active in SNO, the Student Nursing Organization, where he also served as president.

He was a member and also served as president of the Maine Student Nursing Association. The statewide organization, which is a collaborative of nursing programs throughout Maine, realized a 20 percent membership growth while under his leadership.

McClure was inducted into the Nursing Honor Society in December of 2000 and was listed in the 2000 edition of The National Dean's List.

Upon graduating from UMFK, McClure, along with his wife Diane and step-son Justin, was transferred to Bethesda, Maryland where he served at the Bethesda Naval Hospital.

McClure was the second navy man to graduate from UMFK's nursing program. Brant Christianson, who graduated with a nursing and a business degree in 1999, is now serving in a military hospital in Oak Harbor, Washington.