USA / Asien

USNS Byrd Crew Gears Up for Pacific Partnership Mission

WASHINGTON, June 17, 2009 – A four-month humanitarian mission to the South Pacific led by the Navy’s U.S. Pacific Fleet will begin this month as planned despite a switch in ships, the mission commander said.
In a decision made to exercise an abundance of caution, officials chose to replace the Navy’s USS Dubuque with the Military Sealift Command dry cargo/ammunition ship USNS Richard E. Byrd for the Pacific Partnership 2009 mission after a small number of sailors aboard Dubuque were diagnosed with the H1N1 virus, Navy Capt. Andrew Cully said in a "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable June 15.

"Dubuque was one of the first, and remains one of the few ships on the West Coast to report H1N1," Cully said.

Pacific Partnership will provide engineering support and medical, dental and veterinary care in Samoa, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands.

Byrd was selected as a replacement platform because its capabilities fit the needs of the mission, Cully said. The switch required reducing the medical staff from 180 to 50, but the "reduced staff won’t affect the mission," said Cully, who helped to refocus the deployment plan to maximize its public health, dental, optometry and veterinary services.

"We’re excited that even with the last-minute changes, we’ll still deliver what we promised to a lot of high-impact areas," he added.

When members of the international groups that assist with the annual mission learned about the platform change, they offered to fly directly to the countries where Byrd will stop at ports.

"I’m very pleased that most of these organizations stayed with us and are intimately involved in the planning, as well as the execution, of this mission," Cully said.

Project Hope, the Loloma Foundation, International Aid, and the Shriners are among the groups that will participate in Pacific Partnership 2009.

The crew members aboard Byrd are eager to begin their mission, Cully said.

"Helping other nations in a deployment like this is one of the most professionally and personally rewarding career experiences for all of us," he said.

In addition to medical aid, Pacific Partnership will provide engineering support. Engineers from New Zealand, Australia and Canada will refurbish buildings such as schools and clinics and will execute water catchment projects.

"Every project we have — whether refurbishing the clinic [or] refurbishing the schoolhouse — we have taken great strides to increase … their water catchment to provide fresh water," Cully said.

By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service
(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg serves in the Defense Media Activity’s emerging media directorate.)