NORFOLK The hospital ship USNS Comfort left for a humanitarian mission to the Caribbean, Central and South America Friday, despite the looming shutdown.

The crew was focused on the mission ahead--bringing medical relief to a part of the world that could really use it.

The ship embarked on a mission called Continuing Promise 2011 that will provide medical relief to Columbia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Peru.

The five-month deployment came the very day that the federal government may shutdown.

Comfort officials said that doesn't matter.

'First of all, I don't think that's an issue, when you look at it. The Navy and the Military in general, retain their authority to continue to operate to protect the nation's interests. Also, ongoing operations will continue,' said Captain Brian Nickerson.

Aboard Comfort, with its state-of-the-art medical and surgical facilities, crew members seemed to be thinking solely of the job ahead.

'We volunteered to go down. We're very excited about America going to help these other countries,' said Lt. Commander Stephen Foster.

'Actually, it's very exciting. I look forward to getting to meet all the people we're going to work with and hopefully see some of the great outcomes after our surgeries,' added Lt. Commander Rhonda Bennett.

'We're ready to go anywhere, any time the order are directing us to,' said Captain William Todd.

As the Comfort began its journey, half a world away in Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert Gates discussed the shutdown's potential impact on the troops.

'The good news is you will get paid. The bad news is you may not get paid on time. If the government shuts down on the 8th and is shut down for a week, you'll lose half a paycheck. If it goes on to the 30th, you'll lose a whole paycheck,' said Gates.

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