SAN DIEGO — When you think of the United States Navy, big ships with huge guns and a deadly arsenal of cruise missiles often come to mind.

But these ships are not designed to take lives. They're specifically equipped to save them.

USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort are packed with state-of-the-art medical equipment and set sail with an army of highly-trained doctors, surgeons, nurses and pharmacists.

And they're no strangers to the most desperate of life or death situations.

Comfort responded to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, delivering much-needed medical supplies and bringing patients on board to be treated in one of 50 emergency room beds. 

Colombia Hospital Ship
A U.S. doctor from the USNS Comfort hospital ship examines Colombian national Karol Salinas before surgery, in Riohacha, Colombia, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. The USNS Comfort is docked off Colombia's coast near Venezuela and taking aboard hundreds of both Venezuelan and Colombian patients during its four-day mission to a region that has been an epicenter for migration in recent years. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

RELATED: USNS Comfort deploys for Puerto Rico

Mercy deployed in early 2005 to Indonesia after a tsunami devastated the country and killed hundreds of thousands of people. According to the Navy, the ship and its crew focused heavily on treating cases of dehydration, malnutrition -- and infectious diseases.

usns mercy
USNS Mercy

RELATED: USNS Mercy hospital ship set sail from San Diego Friday

That experience will clearly be critical to the mission at hand.

The White House announced Wednesday both the USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort are preparing to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. The Washington Post reports the ships will deploy to "hot spots" around the U.S. if large numbers of COVID-19 patients begin to overwhelm local hospitals.

Right now, New York and Washington are the two states with the largest number of cases.

Comfort is based in San Diego. Mercy's home port is Norfolk, Virginia.

RELATED: Navy ship in San Diego will help hospitals amid coronavirus pandemic

RELATED: USNS Comfort welcomes first baby born on ship since 2010!

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