USS Cleveland Heads Home After Pacific Partnership

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2011 — Steam­ing toward Naval Sta­tion San Diego at the end of their five-month deploy­ment, the crew of USS Cleve­land was feel­ing good about the accom­plish­ments of Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship 2011.

The mix of about 600 mil­i­tary, inter­a­gency and non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion med­ical pro­fes­sion­als and engi­neers made a last­ing impact on the region, Navy Capt. Jesse A. Wil­son Jr., the mis­sion com­man­der, told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice dur­ing a call today from his ves­sel.

Over the course of the mis­sion that includ­ed vis­its to Ton­ga, Van­u­atu, Papua-New Guinea, Tim­or-Leste and the Fed­er­at­ed States of Microne­sia, they treat­ed almost 39,000 patients and pro­vid­ed optom­e­try ser­vices for near­ly 12,000 and den­tal care for more than 3,000.

In addi­tion, embarked vet­eri­nar­i­ans treat­ed more than 800 ani­mals and the ship’s line han­dlers and engi­neers con­duct­ed 22 engi­neer­ing projects.

Now, mid­way between Hawaii and San Diego and due at home­port Aug. 4, Wil­son reflect­ed on the out­pour­ing of appre­ci­a­tion at every stop along the way. In Ton­ga, for exam­ple, he recalled the edu­ca­tion min­is­ter speak­ing through tears as he expressed thanks for the new roof the Seabees had built on a school dec­i­mat­ed by a cyclone two years ear­li­er.

“That’s the kind of thing we saw through­out this mis­sion,” Wil­son said. “The appre­ci­a­tion we encoun­tered every­where we went was amaz­ing.”

U.S. Pacif­ic Com­mand, work­ing through U.S. Pacif­ic Fleet, launched the Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship ini­tia­tive in 2005 after a dev­as­tat­ing tsuna­mi struck the region. Since its incep­tion, the annu­al mis­sion has pro­vid­ed med­ical, den­tal, edu­ca­tion and pre­ven­tive med­i­cine ser­vices to more than 250,000 peo­ple and com­plet­ed more than 150 engi­neer­ing projects in 15 coun­tries.

As a result, Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship pro­vides a frame­work for the Unit­ed States to work col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly with its inter­na­tion­al, inter­a­gency and non­govern­men­tal part­ners to pro­vide a fast, coor­di­nat­ed response should dis­as­ter strike the Pacif­ic Ocean region, Wil­son said.

“When you oper­ate togeth­er like we are doing now in a time of calm and build rela­tion­ships, and you get to know the faces and to under­stand the lan­guage and how peo­ple do busi­ness, it real­ly gets to that goal,” he said. “Dur­ing a time of cri­sis, there is no doubt in my mind that we would be bet­ter pre­pared to work togeth­er in the event that we need to respond quick­ly to a nat­ur­al dis­as­ter.”

Wil­son said he took huge per­son­al sat­is­fac­tion in ensur­ing all the mov­ing parts came togeth­er in a high­ly com­plex mis­sion that includ­ed joint, com­bined, inter­a­gency and non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion oper­a­tions.

Mil­i­tar­i­ly, Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship 2011 was heavy with Navy par­tic­i­pants, but also includ­ed a Marine Corps con­tin­gent that oper­at­ed vehi­cles and equip­ment and Army and Air Force rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Also, this year the Coast Guard par­tic­i­pat­ed in the exer­cise for the first time, with two cut­ters — USCGC Jarvis and USCGC Sequoia — sup­port­ing dif­fer­ent phas­es of the mis­sion.

The inter­a­gency par­tic­i­pa­tion includ­ed State Depart­ment and U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment offi­cials, and the ambas­sadors in four of the five coun­tries worked direct­ly with Wil­son and his team.

In addi­tion, more than a dozen non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions con­tributed man­pow­er and exper­tise to the mis­sion. Wil­son empha­sized the val­ue of their work, and said he will rec­om­mend ways for the Unit­ed States to bet­ter lever­age their activ­i­ties to sus­tain Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship accom­plish­ments.

“We approached this mis­sion with the phi­los­o­phy need­ed to have a whole-of-gov­ern­ment approach to how we went about doing busi­ness,” he said. “When you oper­ate like that, it is very pow­er­ful” because of syn­er­gies cre­at­ed when all enti­ties con­tribute their spe­cial­ized skills and capa­bil­i­ties.

This year’s Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship also had a strong inter­na­tion­al dimen­sion. Aus­tralia, the biggest con­tribut­ing part­ner, con­tributed a con­tin­gency com­man­der and two land­ing craft ships.

Japan, although unable to deploy a mar­itime ves­sel as planned because of its own earth­quake and tsuna­mi dis­as­ter, still sent its full com­ple­ment of med­ical staff to sup­port Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship.

“They did a fan­tas­tic job,” Wil­son said. “I can’t say enough about the Japan­ese people’s resilience, and their com­mit­ment to Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship and to work­ing with the coun­tries of the region.”

For the first time, New Zealand took part in the mis­sion, deploy­ing the amphibi­ous sealift ship HMNZS Can­ter­bury. The engage­ment was part of a new strate­gic part­ner­ship between New Zealand and the Unit­ed States forged last fall with the sign­ing of the Welling­ton Dec­la­ra­tion.

Wil­son called it a “career high” to be able to work with his New Zealand coun­ter­parts and even fly his pen­nant over Can­ter­bury dur­ing the Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship mis­sion.

In addi­tion, a French heli­copter crew embarked on Can­ter­bury, and Cana­da, Sin­ga­pore and Spain sent teams to sup­port the mis­sion.

Despite the com­plex­i­ty of the mis­sion and the mul­ti­ple inter­ac­tions and engage­ments involved, Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship came off “with near-per­fect or flaw­less exe­cu­tion,” Wil­son said.

But steam­ing to San Diego, he admit­ted to feel­ing a bit nos­tal­gic dur­ing the final leg of what will be Cleveland’s final mis­sion. The third-old­est Navy ship, which made its first deploy­ment 44 years ago to the Gulf of Tonkin to sup­port the Viet­nam War, is due to be decom­mis­sioned next month.

With a bit of touch-up paint applied in Hawaii mak­ing it look brand new, Wil­son said, it’s fit­ting that Cleve­land will wrap up its career sup­port­ing a major human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter response pre­pared­ness mis­sion.

“This brings it all full cir­cle,” he said. “It’s a great way for the ship to end its mis­sion and its role in the U.S. Navy. And I can’t think of a bet­ter deploy­ment to end it on.”

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