Pacific Exercise Tests Disaster Response Capabilities

WASHINGTON, March 2, 2011 — With two Navy ves­sels en route to the Mediter­ranean to sup­port emer­gency evac­u­a­tions and human­i­tar­i­an oper­a­tions for the Libyan cri­sis, if direct­ed, U.S. Pacif­ic Com­mand is prepar­ing to launch an inter­a­gency, inter­na­tion­al mis­sion aimed at pro­vid­ing a fast, coor­di­nat­ed response should dis­as­ter strike the Pacif­ic Ocean region.

Pacific Partnership 2011
USS Cleve­land is slat­ed to leave San Diego March 21 to become the lead U.S. ves­sel dur­ing Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship 2011. The five-month human­i­tar­i­an and civic assis­tance mis­sion will include vis­its to Ton­ga, Van­u­atu, Papua-New Guinea, Tim­or-Leste and the Fed­er­at­ed States of Microne­sia.
U.S. Navy pho­to
Click to enlarge

Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship 2011 will kick off March 21, when the amphibi­ous trans­port dock ship USS Cleve­land leaves its San Diego port to become the lead U.S. ves­sel dur­ing a five-month mis­sion through Ocea­nia, Navy Capt. Jesse A. Wil­son Jr., the mis­sion com­man­der and com­man­der of Destroy­er Squadron 23, told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice.

The par­tic­i­pants — a mix about 600 mil­i­tary, inter­a­gency and non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion­al med­ical pro­fes­sion­als and engi­neers hail­ing from sev­er­al nations — will vis­it Ton­ga, Van­u­atu, Papua-New Guinea, Tim­or-Leste and the Fed­er­at­ed States of Microne­sia, Wil­son said.

Pacom, work­ing through U.S. Pacif­ic Fleet, launched the Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship ini­tia­tive in 2005 after a dev­as­tat­ing Decem­ber 2004 tsuna­mi struck the region. The annu­al mis­sion focus­es on rein­forc­ing rela­tion­ships formed through the tsuna­mi response and lay­ing ground­work to ensure future pre­pared­ness, Wil­son said.

Through a vari­ety of human­i­tar­i­an and civic assis­tance projects, Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship pro­vides a frame­work for the Unit­ed States to work col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly with its inter­na­tion­al, inter­a­gency and non-gov­ern­men­tal part­ners to con­duct an effec­tive human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter relief response, he said.

Mil­i­tar­i­ly, Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship 2011 will be heav­i­ly Navy, but it also will include a Marine Corps con­tin­gent to oper­ate vehi­cles and equip­ment and Army and Air Force rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

The inter­a­gency par­tic­i­pa­tion will include a State Depart­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tive to join Wil­son aboard USS Cleve­land for the entire mis­sion, and U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment offi­cials, as well as their inter­na­tion­al coun­ter­parts, to oper­ate pri­mar­i­ly ashore.

More than a dozen non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions also will con­tribute man­pow­er and exper­tise.

“This is more than a whole-of-gov­ern­ment approach,” Wil­son said. “It’s the whole of sev­er­al gov­ern­ments” and their NGOs “to make sure we are all work­ing in synch to lever­age all the efforts we are doing.”

The U.S. Coast Guard also will par­tic­i­pate in the exer­cise for the first time, with two cut­ters sup­port­ing var­i­ous phas­es of the over­all mis­sion. USCGC Jarvis will join the oper­a­tions in Ton­ga, and USCGC Sequoia, in Microne­sia.

In addi­tion, Aus­tralia will con­tribute two land­ing craft ships; Japan, a mar­itime self-defense force ves­sel; and New Zealand, the amphibi­ous sealift ship HMNZS Can­ter­bury that is cur­rent­ly sup­port­ing the hur­ri­cane response in Christchurch.

A French heli­copter crew will be embarked on the Can­ter­bury, and Cana­da, Sin­ga­pore and Spain will deploy teams to sup­port Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship 2011.

Last year, when the hos­pi­tal ship USNS Mer­cy con­duct­ed Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship 2011, the empha­sis was on con­duct­ing surg­eries and oth­er advanced med­ical pro­ce­dures, many of them aboard ship. But this year, with a large-deck amphibi­ous ship serv­ing as the pri­ma­ry plat­form, med­ical, den­tal, vet­eri­nary, vet­eri­nary and engi­neer­ing ser­vices will be pro­vid­ed ashore.

“We are more focused on get­ting our doc­tors ashore, work­ing side by side with host-nation doc­tors, exchang­ing exper­tise and new ideas, repair­ing bio­med­ical equip­ment and get­ting to where we can ser­vice remote areas and under­served pop­u­la­tions in those coun­tries,” Wil­son said.

Navy Seabees also will be key to the mis­sion, part­ner­ing with host-nation offi­cials and NGOs to ren­o­vate schools and build med­ical clin­ics. At one loca­tion, they’ll repair bro­ken toi­lets so chil­dren no longer have to go home when nature calls. At anoth­er stop, they will improve drainage to stop flood­ing at a site des­ig­nat­ed as an evac­u­a­tion point dur­ing a nat­ur­al dis­as­ter.

“Our engi­neers do a lot to improve, not only the lev­el of ser­vices that can be pro­vid­ed in the coun­try, but also the qual­i­ty of life of the peo­ple,” Wil­son said.

Through these projects and activ­i­ties, par­tic­i­pants in Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship will work with host-coun­try offi­cials to iden­ti­fy how they could con­tribute to that country’s dis­as­ter-response capa­bil­i­ties.

“We can famil­iar­ize our­selves with that con­struct and deter­mine who the key play­ers are, how do we com­mu­ni­cate, what capa­bil­i­ty do they have, and what capa­bil­i­ty would we need to bring in case there was an emer­gency?” Wil­son said. “And to the great­est extent that we can do that, it will serve us in the event of a real dis­as­ter.

“It increas­es our inter­op­er­abil­i­ty, which in the end, serves to lessen the pain and suf­fer­ing that would hap­pen after a dis­as­ter,” he said.

As they join togeth­er this year for the first time for Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship, the three U.S. mar­itime ser­vices — the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard — will pro­mote three of the six core com­pe­ten­cies embod­ied in their col­lec­tive mar­itime strat­e­gy, Wil­son said.

“One of them is human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter response. And that is not a buzz­word. It is not some­thing we do when we feel like it,” he said. “It is part of our mis­sion.” The mis­sion also pro­vides for­ward pres­ence and engage­ment. “We are a glob­al force for good. That is our mot­to,” Wil­son said. “And to do that, you need to be out and about and avail­able and engag­ing with your part­ners and host nations.”

Wil­son cit­ed the dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake that hit Haiti in Jan­u­ary 2010. Sailors aboard the USS Hig­gins, return­ing to San Diego from an around-the-world deploy­ment, were the first respon­ders to arrive on the scene to bring relief to the vic­tims.

“To be a first respon­der, just like a beat cop on the street or that para­medic that shows up, you have to be out and you have to be about,” Wil­son said. “And that is what the Navy is. We have for­ward pres­ence. And that’s what we will be pro­vid­ing dur­ing Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship 2011.”

Mean­while, the mis­sion pro­motes mar­itime secu­ri­ty, a third tenet of the mar­itime strat­e­gy. “Through Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship, we are increas­ing our abil­i­ty to oper­ate with oth­er host-nation navies and orga­ni­za­tions,” Wil­son said. “What we have found is, the more you enhance and devel­op a part­ner­ship, an alliance, a friend­ship, the bet­ter you can unite and work togeth­er for a host of things.”

As it bol­sters long-stand­ing rela­tion­ships and builds new ones, Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship demon­strates U.S. com­mit­ment to the Pacif­ic region, Wil­son said.

“We saw the grat­i­tude for the assis­tance we pro­vid­ed [fol­low­ing the 2004 tsuna­mi], and how that went a long way in devel­op­ing long-last­ing part­ner­ships, rela­tion­ships and friend­ships,” he said. “So we con­tin­ue to build those rela­tion­ships [and] those part­ner­ships so we can more effec­tive­ly, in a col­lec­tive man­ner, address any kind of nat­ur­al or man­made dis­as­ter that could hap­pen in the region.”

Over the past five years, Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship has pro­vid­ed med­ical, den­tal, edu­ca­tion­al and pre­ven­tive med­i­cine ser­vices to more than 300,000 peo­ple and com­plet­ed more than 130 engi­neer­ing projects in 13 coun­tries.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter