USA — Missions Show U.S. Commitment in Pacific, Latin America

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.

Pacific Partnership 2010
U.S. Pacif­ic Fleet’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans, Poli­cies and Require­ments, Rear Adm. Thomas F. Car­ney lis­tens to Navy Capt. Lisa M. Franchet­ti, com­man­der of Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship 2010, dur­ing a tour of the Nu Laran School engi­neer­ing civic action pro­gram in Dili, Tim­or-Leste, on Aug. 19, 2010. Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship 2010 is con­duct­ing the fifth in a series of annu­al human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter relief endeav­ors through­out South­east Asia, aimed at strength­en­ing region­al part­ner­ships.
U.S. Navy pho­to by Pet­ty Offi­cer 3rd Class Matthew Jack­son
Click to enlarge

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) 

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