By Wendy Bodetka
New York, N.Y. During our nation's recent tragedy at the Pentagon and in New York City, many Americans pulled together to work amid the chaos and destruction and, in doing so, reinstated our unity and pride. New York's finest, the FDNY, NYPD, Red Cross volunteers and many other rescue workers, continue to dig through tons of rubble that was once the World Trade Center to recover their fallen comrades and identify those still missing.
On September 12th, the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), left Baltimore at New York City's request to provide support services to emergency personnel working in the attack recovery effort. This Mercy-class ship is equipped with 1,000 beds for medical treatment, but functioned primarily as a haven for rescue workers to receive a cooked meal, hot shower and a place to rest their weary bodies after an exhausting day at "Ground Zero."
Navy Hospital Corpsman Louie R. Bautista, son of Loreto and Myrna Bautista of San Diego, Calif., is one of the extraordinary Sailors who was part of the backbone of Com-fort's mission. "On the Comfort I am acting as a food service attendant. I help out the cooks in the galley," Bautista said.
The 24-year-old graduated from Abraxas High School in 1995 and chose to let his journey begin by joining the United States Navy in April of 2000. "I joined the Navy to broaden my horizons in life. I wanted to become independent, responsible and benefit from its plentiful opportunities."
Each deployment has a different effect on Sailors, and this one, which was the result of a homeland tragedy, may have even longer-lasting effects. "This experience has taught me to expect the unexpected, stay alert and be prepared for anything," he said.
A New York City trip often leaves visitors with memories of crowds, bright billboards and traffic, but the Sailors aboard USNS Comfort have memories that are a bit different. "My most memorable experience in New York would have been shaking hands with the former first lady, Hillary Clinton," said the Sailor.
Our nation has suffered greatly from this tragedy, but Sailors like Bautista are trying to help mend the wounds with support and care. They, like their fellow United States citizens, still hold their heads high and say, "I'm proud to be an American."