WASHINGTON, Aug. 24, 2010 — As the U.S. military conducts disaster response operations in flood-stricken Pakistan, it’s also engaged in major humanitarian and civic assistance missions in the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean.
These missions — U.S. Pacific Command’s Pacific Partnership 2010 and U.S. Southern Command’s Continuing Promise 2010 –- are demonstrating U.S. commitment to the regions, their mission commanders told American Forces Press Service.
As U.S. servicemembers deliver medical, dental, engineering and veterinary services to some of the world’s neediest regions, they’re bolstering long-standing relationships and building new ones.
They’re also providing critical groundwork for the United States to work collaboratively with its international, interagency and non-governmental partners to conduct an effective response should a disaster strike, the commanders said.
Pacific Partnership 2010, which moves into its final phase today, is the fifth in a series of missions launched after a devastating tsunami in 2005. “Our leadership wanted to continue to come back to this region every year to foster the relationships we built during that stressful time and help us become better prepared, collectively, to respond to those kinds of disasters in the future,” said Navy Capt. Lisa Franchetti, the mission commander.
Continuing Promise 2010, six weeks into its four-month mission, also is reinforcing lessons learned and relationships built during devastating natural disasters.
The crew of the USS Kearsarge was diverted from its scheduled Continuing Promise mission in 2008 to provide disaster relief assistance after a string of severe hurricanes hit Haiti. The USNS Comfort visited Haiti last April as part of Continuing Promise 2009. Its crew returned to Haiti this January to provide disaster relief and humanitarian assistance following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake.
“That is the true magic of this mission – the interactions, the relationships, the partnerships established through the work we do,” said Navy Capt. Thomas M. Negus, commander of the USS Iwo Jima and mission commander for Continuing Promise 2010. “We really are demonstrating our commitment to our neighborhood through our everyday actions.” Here’s an insight into these two missions, and the impact they are having on two highly strategic regions.
Pacific Partnership 2010
The hospital ship USNS Mercy is in Timor-Leste wrapping up the last leg of the four-month Pacific Partnership mission today. Since leaving San Diego May 1, the 894-foot-long, 69,000-ton floating hospital also has visited Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia.
The Mercy’s crew includes about 800 military medical, dental and engineering specialists and civilian volunteers, Mercy said, that have worked closely together to accomplish myriad outreach projects.
Speaking by phone from Dili, Timor-Leste’s capital, she described the magnitude of what they’ve accomplished to date: treating more than 95,000 patients, conducting more than 700 surgeries and completing 26 construction projects.
During Mercy’s visit to Cambodia, a first for Pacific Partnership, its embarked engineers fanned out into three remote communities to drill three wells that Franchetti said will provide fresh drinking water to 35,000 people.
In addition, she said, crewmembers presented about 10,000 hours of professional training in specific topics requested by the host countries, mostly related to medical care. Meanwhile, veterinarians from the Army and two non-governmental organizations provided services ashore. And Mercy’s bio-medical technicians helped repair broken equipment at each port call, while also teaching people on the ground how to conduct their own maintenance.
Most of the more complex medical procedures, Franchetti said, were conducted directly aboard Mercy, a converted oil tanker now equipped with a helicopter flight deck, specialized laboratories, 12 operating rooms, an 80-bed intensive-care unit and beds for 1,000 patients.
But many of the other missions were conducted in relatively deep into the host nation’s territory, Franchetti said, thanks to capabilities lent by embarked U.S. helicopters as well as two Australian heavy landing craft.
As she acknowledged the scope of their work and the sheer numbers of people treated and civic action projects completed, Franchetti emphasized that numbers aren’t what really counts in Pacific Partnership.
“This is really about building relationships out here,” she said. “And every time we come back, it reinforces our relationships … All of our initiatives that we have here are continuing to strengthen the relationships we have around the world, with both our partner nations that participate, as well as the host nations that invite us to come and do Pacific Partnership with them.”
Pacom, working through U.S. Pacific Fleet, launched the Pacific Partnership initiative after the 2005 tsunami to build on relationships built and ensure future preparedness. “This deployment offers an incredible opportunity to continue to build the relationships and capabilities that will be essential to responding to a real-world disaster in the region,” Franchetti said.
Mercy will leave Timor-Leste today to begin the transit home to San Diego. But the mission will continue as Franchetti and about 40 other members of her staff transfer to a Royal Australian Navy ship to visit one additional country, Papua New Guinea.
That visit, to be conducted aboard HMAS Tobruk, will further reinforce the “partnership” aspect of Pacific Partnership, Franchetti said. USS Crommelin, a 453-foot guided missile frigate based in Hawaii, will join Pacific Partnership in early September to participate in the final leg of the mission.
Franchetti, a service warfare officer, said it’s “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to participate in such a worthwhile humanitarian mission.
“I’ve been in the Navy for 25 years, and I have never been prouder of a team,” she said. “It’s very challenging here. The days are long and the mission is very complex. But this has been a great team effort, with some of the hardest-working people, all committed to be being able to work together with our partners and the host nations to be able to provide assistance.”
Continuing Promise 2010
In the Western Hemisphere, the amphibious ship USS Iwo Jima arrived in Costa Rica Aug. 20, beginning the third visit during the four-month Continuing Promise 2010 mission that ultimately will take its crew to eight countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The ship left its home port in Norfolk, Va., July 12 for a mission that, after Costa Rica, will continue to Guatemala, Guyana, Nicaragua, Panama and Suriname. Each visit will last 10 to 14 days.
Speaking by phone from his stateroom as the Iwo Jima glided into harbor outside Limon, Costa Rica, Negus reflected on the medical and civil assistance help his 1,800-member crew had already delivered in Haiti and Colombia.
For this deployment, Iwo Jima was configured with special medical equipment and manned with medical experts from the U.S. military and 12 partner nations’ militaries, the U.S. Public Health Service and more than 20 non-governmental organizations.
They’ve joined Iwo Jima’s 1,000 sailors, a team of Seabees and about 500 members of a Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force that’s providing transportation and logistical support for Continuing Promise.
“Partnering is a huge part of this mission,” Negus said. “We bring a full range of medical, dental, veterinary and engineering services,” all complemented by the rich blend of skill sets and capabilities each participant provides.
In Costa Rica, Negus said, these partners are working at three different medical sites and two engineering and community relations sites, and also providing veterinary services and training with the Costa Rican police force.
“These are remarkably complex operations,” he said. “We typically have multiple worksites in each of these areas, and most of those are quite remote. If there’s any one challenge, it’s just the very complex nature of expeditionary humanitarian assistance in very remote regions across the disparate geography of Latin America and the southern maritime area.” As they carry out their diverse missions, Negus said they’re reinforcing core humanitarian assistance competencies that are fundamental to the maritime services -– and invaluable in the event of a real-life disaster.
Those competencies have proven invaluable in the region, both when USS Kearsarge responded to the Haiti’s flooding during Continuing Promise 2008, and when USNS Comfort returned there after this year’s January earthquake.
Throughout this year’s mission, Negus said he’s been struck by the reception he and his crew receive as they work hand-in-glove with their host-nation counterparts.
“That is the true magic of this mission –- the interactions, the relationships, the partnerships established through the work we do,” he said. “We really are demonstrating our commitment to our neighborhood through our everyday actions.”
Unlike most military deployments, which Negus said demonstrate “what we can do,” Continuing Promise demonstrates “who we are” as it extends a helping hand to regional neighbors “at the very basic human-to-human level.”
As participants conduct their day-to-day missions, Negus said they can’t help but be changed from the experience.
“The personal impact you are having in the lives of so many people, it fundamentally changes your outlook … you can’t help our neighbors like we are doing without being affected,” he said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)