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No ordinary mission - J’can chaplain happy to serve countrymen on US hospital ship

Published:Tuesday | October 29, 2019 | 12:10 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer

Lt Com Devon Foster was a picture of fulfilment as he spoke to The Gleaner aboard a vessel in the Kingston Harbour yesterday.

Having migrated to the United States at the age of 13, he was happy to be home once again.

This was no ordinary trip. Nor was it an ordinary vessel.

Foster is back in his homeland as part of a 1,000-man team on a medical mission he helped to plan aboard the US Navy hospital ship, USNS Comfort, which is aiming to complete 150 free surgeries during the weeklong trip.

“I’m happy to be back home,” he said, reflecting on his journey.

“Jamaica will always be the place of my birth, and to have the opportunity to come back and to participate in this small way is very meaningful, and I hope that I can touch some lives, and I hope others will be inspired by the fact that they can migrate and then come back and be a blessing and a help to their country,” added Foster, the US Navy Command chaplain and community relations coordinator.


Foster grew up in Spanish Town, St Catherine, and recalls that he was one of the first students to attend Ensom City All-Age School (now Ensom City Primary).

“I remember being on the morning shift and then switching over to evening shift. That was an experience – to do half a day of school,” he said. “My Jamaican upbringing is my actual formation. The person that I am is from that formation. That’s where I learnt to be kind to people, to have manners. That’s where I learnt to have decency and, most importantly, go to church.”

Foster joined the Navy in 1985, and after serving for a few years, he left to further his education, but he would come full circle.

“I pursued a master’s degree in theology. [I’m] almost finished with my doctorate in church history. I also have a doctorate in divinity and I have my undergraduate degree in accounting,” he said.

“I was enlisted in the Navy and I honestly feel that it was a calling. I was practising accounting, working as a state auditor in New York City for several years. Then the opportunity came and I prayed about it and felt that this is what God wanted for me at this particular time in my life,” he further explained.

Foster has been a chaplain for 13 years, and he is serving on the USNS Comfort for the first time, although he has been on eight previous missions.

“We do a lot of counselling, but the numbers vary. Most of the times, we have formal counselling sessions, where people make an appointment and come in, but we have counselling where we just meet people on the ship or at the med sites and we have counselling with them for different things ­– stress, marriage, or other relationships.”

The father of two revealed that his daughter could follow in his footsteps as she is now registered in the Naval Academy.

The USNS Comfort, an oil tanker-turned-hospital ship, is in Kingston for its 11th stop in a 12-country mission. It is the ship’s third visit to the island and the final docking will be in Haiti next week.

About the hospital ship

The USNS Comfort houses 1,000 beds and an equal number of staff to offer free medical services.

It will offer free medical services between October 28 and November 1. It is anticipated that approximately 150 surgeries will be conducted on board. Surgeries will fall under the categories of ophthalmology, general surgery, orthopaedic surgery, oral maxillofacial surgery, plastic surgery, wound care, and urology.

Cataract, hernia and gallbladder removal surgeries are among the procedures that will be conducted on board.

Surgery candidates were selected by the Ministry of Health and a team from the US through a process of screening. They were chosen from the list of patients who were already on local hospital waiting lists.

Also on board is a blood bank and a range of diagnostic machines for conducting X-rays, CT scans, and ultrasounds.

Basic medical, optical, paediatric and dental services are also being offered at walk-in sites at Sabina Park and the Greater Portmore Health Centre.