- Two months into the largest disaster response preparedness operation in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, participants in Pacific Partnership 2013 are taking the mission to the next level in ways the mission commander says will help to ensure its long-term viability despite budgetary constraints.
USS Pearl Harbor, an amphibious dock landing ship serving as the mission’s primary command-and-control platform, arrived earlier this week for an 11-day visit to Kiribati, Navy Capt. Wallace Lovely said during a telephone interview shortly after arriving at the Pacific island nation.
Kiribati is one of six host nations participating in this year’s mission, which kicked off in May, and has paid 10- to 12-day visits to Samoa, Tonga and Papua New Guinea, Lovely reported. Later this month, the participants will continue on to the Marshall Islands before wrapping up the mission in the Solomon Islands.
U.S. Pacific Command, operating through U.S. Pacific Fleet, launched the Pacific Partnership initiative in 2006 after a devastating tsunami swept through Southeast Asia two years earlier. The annual mission was designed to reinforce relationships formed through the tsunami response and lay the groundwork to ensure future preparedness.
Over the past eight years, Pacific Partnership has stood as a model of multinational, interagency and nongovernmental organization cooperation. This year’s mission, for example, includes participants from the United States and nine partner nations: Australia, Canada, Colombia, France, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and New Zealand.
Working alongside them are representatives of four U.S. agencies and 28 nongovernmental organizations, many of them volunteers who use their vacation time to participate.
Doctors, nurses, dentists, veterinarians and other medical professionals make up the lion’s share of the participants. Navy Seabees with construction skills, as well as experts in disaster preparedness and response, security and other specialized areas, round out the team.
As during previous Pacific Partnership missions, they are working alongside their hosts to provide medical and dental care, optometry clinics, health education, water filtration system evaluations, school refurbishments, bridge repairs and other services.
But this year for the first time, the primary emphasis is on helping host nations manage their own disaster response through capacity building, not direct care, Lovely said. Rather than concentrating their time with individual patients, participants are heavily engaged in information-sharing forums and exchanges with their host-nation counterparts in issues ranging from mass-casualty care to firefighting and safe boating techniques.
This serves a greater purpose, Lovely explained, increasing skills and expertise that benefit the host nations immediately, supporting host nation long-term improvements, and paying even greater dividends in the event of a natural disaster.
It also builds confidence among host nations that the United States and its partners will be there to help and support them, if needed, he said.
“We are all focused on the same thing in this region,” Lovely said. “We are preparing ourselves for humanitarian assistance [and] disaster relief in the event that we have to respond collectively.”
This year’s Pacific Partnership is introducing another major change, as two partners share leadership responsibility for the first time in the mission’s history. Australia led the mission in Papua, New Guinea, with HMAS Tobruk serving as its command platform. New Zealand assumed the command lead in Kiribati, and will do so again during the final leg of Pacific Partnership 2013, in Solomon Islands. There, New Zealand Navy Capt. Tony Millar will maintain the command lead aboard HMNZS Canterbury, with Lovely aboard, as USS Pearl Harbor steams back home to San Diego.
This arrangement is a win-win situation, Lovely said, that promotes leadership development and interoperability and helps to ensure the long-term sustainability of Pacific Partnership.
“Sharing of lead responsibilities and logistical resourcing among partner nations will keep this incredibly impactful mission sustainable in light of future fiscal challenges,” he said. “I could not be more proud of the multilateral planning effort that has gone into this year’s mission. It has been a true team effort.”
Navy Adm. Cecil D. Haney, the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander and a big advocate of Pacific Partnership, visited Kiribai yesterday to check in on operations underway.
“I have the daily privilege to view operations conducted by our sailors that help keep America secure,” Haney said. “While sailors of all nations are always proud of the work they do, there is a distinctive sense of accomplishment among everyone participating in Pacific Partnership. I believe this pride stems from knowing how this mission touches lives like those here in Kiribati, while also increasing regional stability which enhances economic prosperity.”
Haney expressed thanks to all participating nations and civilian organizations, stressing the importance of continuing multilateral missions like Pacific Partnership despite tough budgetary decisions.
“The U.S. Pacific Fleet is always prepared for battle, but we also operate to preserve the peace,” Haney said. “Ultimately, missions such as Pacific Partnership strengthen relationships that are critical to deter conflict. They build trust, enhance cooperation, increase interoperability, and open dialogues between leaders -- a multilateral approach that benefits all Pacific nations, including the United States.”
More than midway through the mission, Lovely said, Pacific Partnership 2013 is exceeding all expectations. “I can’t even emphasize positively enough how well this mission has gone in every nation we have visited. It has been superb,” he said. “This is partnership. No word sums up what we do any better than that.”
Working together to help in building partner capacity, the mission will have a long-term impact on a region that experiences frequent natural disasters, Lovely said.
“Pacific Partnership represents a lasting return on investment for all participating nations and organizations by helping to ensure the international community is better prepared to work together as a coordinated team when disaster strikes,” he said.
This effort “makes a real difference for the people of our Pacific Island host nations,” Lovely added.