By Carol Vaughn —
Tangier native James “Nick” Dise is among the hundreds of sailors aboard the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort who are working to help New York City cope with the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The ship, which has a home port in Norfolk, Va., arrived March 30 in New York’s harbor, sailing past the Statue of Liberty.
“I had a lot of pride, looking at that, knowing what we were coming to do,” Dise said.
With the title senior chief information systems technician, Dise is the leading chief petty officer of the operations department aboard the Comfort.
He is in charge of the ship’s communications and computer networks — playing an important support role for the ship’s medical staff.
Dise was born and raised on Tangier, and he returns there whenever he can.
“My mother and most of my family are still there on the island,” he said, adding, “I’m there pretty often, when I’m not engaged in other things with the Navy.”
This mission is different from any other Dise has experienced during his 18-plus years in the Navy, which included defending waterways in the Persian Gulf, among other missions.
“This one is a lot different. The medical reasons, and being here for humanitarian reasons, is a different experience — but a really awesome experience,” he said.
Orginally, the Comfort was supposed to accept noncoronavirus emergency or urgent care patients to alleviate the burden on the city’s hospitals; the ship now is treating COVID-positive patients as well.
One crew member earlier this month tested postive for COVID-19 and was put in isolation aboard the ship, according to an ABC News report.
The ship on April 8 received critical supplies, including air-purifying respirators, delivered by a Seahawk helicopter from Naval Station Norfolk.
The medical team aboard Comfort as of April 14 has treated more than 120 patients, and more than 50 patients have been discharged back to their homes.
About half the patients being treated aboard the ship are COVID-positive, according to public affairs officer Lt. Devin Arneson.
The New York Post reported Tuesday that two people have died from COVID-19 aboard the ship. The report, which identified the deceased as patients, said Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office confirmed the deaths.
Since 2001, the Comfort and sister ship, Mercy, have conducted a number of humanitarian-assistance and disaster-response missions at home and abroad, providing care to more than 550,000 people, according to the Navy.
Missions included a deployment in 2017 to Puerto Rico to support relief efforts after Hurricane Maria, and a 2018 medical support mission to South and Central America, among others.
When fully operational, the Comfort has a crew of around 71 civilians and up to 1,200 Navy medical and communications personnel.
A typical day on the ship starts early for Dise.
“I wake up pretty early, sit down,…figure out what my plan of the day is going to be, and begin execution. I’m in charge of a good handful of people in various jobs on board, so I make sure they get the day started with all the information they need, and then just continue the day, serving wherever I need to be,” Dise said.
Asked what he misses most about home, Dise said, “My mom, my family, and the amazing food.”
When the crew members are off-duty, they have time to make telephone calls, watch movies and television, or just talk.
“There are things that just kind of keep us relaxed and motivated,” Dise said.
On Easter, several services were held on board, observing social distancing standards, and crew also could tune in to online church services.
“The food was amazing on Easter Sunday. They made sure we had really good food,” Dise said, adding, “I would say, personally, I used that day to just make sure everybody’s morale was kind of high — walk around, talk, cheer them up, make sure they were good to go.”
Dise said emailing letters is a good way to support the crew.
“There are various organizations who are writing letters or sending emails…I’m telling those that ask to just send it to the crew, because a lot of the crew needs some motivation. It’s always beneficial. I know I’ve got really good backing back at home, but I know that maybe some people may not have that kind of backing, and I want to be able to share that with them,” he said.
Emails can be sent to email@example.com.
While the crew members are not able to leave the ship, they have a great view of Manhattan.
“It’s a beautiful view of New York City, right where we are positioned,” Dise said, adding, “I really enjoy going out in the morning and just taking in the sunrise over the skyline.”
Others from his hometown, whose work on tugboats takes them to the city, have been able to view the massive ship at its berth.
“I’ve had two of my cousins ride by and snap photos of the ship,” he said.
Dise had this message for Post readers: “Observe what’s being put out by the government — definitely social distancing, being very cautious, continuing on the hygiene aspects of it….Hopefully, once all this starts to calm, and people continue on this, we can begin our journey home — but we won’t go until the mission is accomplished.”