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Aboard the USS Kennedy, a floating hospital for the sailors
By Christopher A. Szechenyi, Boston.com Staff, 07/12/00
BOSTON -- Life at sea can be a dangerous place, especially on a ship as large as the 1,052-foot-long aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy, with its nearly 5,000 sailors, pilots and officers.
Most of the time, sailors come with cuts, colds, and broken bones, according to Navy Lt. Scott Brannan, one of the doctors aboard the Kennedy.
“The aircraft carrier is a fairly dangerous place,” he said. "People end up with broken fingers and broken hands. I see a lot of lacerations, a fair amount of fractures, hand injuries and common stuff like back pain, and knee injuries.”
The Kennedy, commissioned in 1968, sailed into Boston on Monday to take part in Sail Boston 2000. The ship, a veritable floating city, will be open for tours beginning this afternoon.
Navy Lt. Scott Brannan one of the doctors stationed on the USS John F. Kennedy. (Boston.com Staff Photo)
Visitors will board a ship that offers its crew a whole contingent of medical personnel, including a senior medical officer, a surgeon, a physical therapist, a psychologist, a general medical officer, a physician’s assistant and 30 hospital corpsmen.
“We have an outpatient ward and an inpatient ward with three intensive care beds and 20 or so other beds,” said the 28-year-old Brannan, who is from Baltimore, Md.
In his year aboard the carrier, Brannan has spent six months in the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean, and the ship has conducted training exercises off the coast of Florida, near its home at the Mayport Naval Station.
During that period, one tragedy stands out from the routine medical calls.
Last November, two pilots in an S-3 airplane crashed shortly after takeoff from the carrier as it sailed through the Persian Gulf.
“It was a sad day for everyone,” Brannan said. “We recovered the bodies and brought them into medical, but they were dead. They died on impact with the water.”
The medical crew on board the massive vessel takes care of more than just the Kennedy's personnel. The other eight ships in the Kennedy's battle group also send their sick and injured over for attention.
“We’re the primary source of medical care for all the ships,” Brannan said.
As the ship’s general medical officer, Brannan sees several hundred patients a month.
“It’s given me a much better understanding of the sacrifices people in the military make – being away from their families,” he said.
“This has definitely enhanced my leadership skills,” said Brannan, whose medical school training at the University of Rochester was paid for by the Navy.
He said he hopes the experience will give his medical career a focus, whether he stays in the Navy or moves back to civilian life.
“I’m still thinking about what area to specialize in,” Brannan said.
Asked whether he might devote himself to the Navy beyond the two more years he owes the service, he said: “It’s definitely a possibility.”