Comforting Thoughts: USNS Comfort Corpsman Reflects on Heritage and Mission
Story by SN Brendan Fitzgerald on 06/26/2019
In December 1996, Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Felix R. Piro visited the United States and met his grandfather, both for the very first time. His grandfather was a Chief who had served in the Navy during World War II and had given over 20 years of service to the country he loved. He later worked at the Pentagon and traveled throughout Latin America. Piro listened in awe to his grandfather tell war stories and proudly flaunt pictures of himself in uniform. After meeting his grandfather, Piro knew he wanted to follow in his footsteps. When he was just six years old, Piro knew he wanted to do something special with his life.
“After meeting my grandfather, I knew I wanted to join the Navy,” said Piro “The Navy has been so good to me. I joined right out of high school and my adventure began. I’ve gotten everything I wanted and needed.”
Piro was born in Venezuela and lived there until he was nine years old. The issues of the Venezuelan government at the time caused his parents to move him and his two sisters to California. The plan was to live in the United States for 10 years and eventually move back to Venezuela. However, the status of the Venezuelan government, economy, and the rise of crime and corruption caused them to divert from their original plan.
“Even if my parents decided to move back to Venezuela, I would’ve stayed in the U.S.,” said Piro. “I made up my mind that I would join the Navy a long time ago.”
He has deployed to Afghanistan twice and has been stationed on Camp Pendleton, Cali. to work in the hospital with Marines. He gained experience working as a corpsman, specifically dealing with anesthesia. His experience resulted in consistent promotion and his current title as one of the leading petty officers aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20).
“I have full faith in his ability as a leader, a Hospital Corpsman, and a Sailor,” said Chief Hospital Corpsman Adrian Cassanova, Piro’s Leading Chief Petty Officer. “He has demonstrated pride, initiative and zeal in leading the activation of 100-bed hospital and 20-bed ICU in support of Comfort Deployment 2019.”
Comfort is working with health and government partners in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean to provide care on the ship and at land-based medical sites, helping to relieve pressure on national medical systems strained by an increase in Venezuelan migrants.
“When I knew we were going down to help Venezuelan migrants, I was excited”, said Piro. “I haven’t been back since I left and this is a little closure for me. I’m very passionate about my job and giving back. I get the opportunity to give back to the country where I spent my childhood.”
He holds his childhood time spent in Venezuela near to his heart. However, the difference in freedoms was apparent, even at a young age.
“I first learned to ride a bike when I got to the U.S., something I didn’t even think about doing in Venezeula,” said Piro.
Piro said when he was growing up in Venezuela, it was the richest country in South America with the world’s largest proven oil reserves.
“Where they are now compared to where they were twenty years ago when I was there, is absolutely devastating,” said Piro. “They don’t have the luxury of going to the grocery store and getting toothpaste or toilet paper like we do over here.”
He also said he believes people of his home country view America as a super power with the ability to provide aid.
“The U.S. going down there is a sign of hope for these people,” said Piro. “It’s a chance at a normal life again for them, something that I am so fortunate to have.”
The entire side of Piro’s mother’s family still lives in Venezuela and he keeps in contact with all the new occurrences going on in his home country.
“It’s been a thought of mine about how one of my family members may need medical attention from us,” said Piro. “We would literally be helping my family, which is a comforting thought.”