AT SEA, Aboard USS Cleveland and USNS Comfort – Two ships are underway this summer from Baltimore and San Diego conducting humanitarian assistance missions in the U.S. Pacific and Southern Command areas of responsibility, bringing the U.S. Navy directly to the people of some Caribbean, Central and South American, and Pacific Island nations.
The two ships, amphibious transport dock ship USS Cleveland (LPD 7) and Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), are different in design, yet both are charged with the same mission of maintaining a forward presence, demonstrating the value of maritime security through interoperability, providing humanitarian assistance, and being able to rapidly respond in support of foreign disaster response efforts.
Cleveland got underway in support of Pacific Partnership 2011 March 21. Comfort deployed in support of Continuing Promise 2011 April 8.
Both Pacific Partnership and Continuing Promise missions are intended to allow U.S. personnel to work side-by-side with a variety of partner nations, governmental and non-governmental organizations, to train in civil-military operations while providing medical, dental, and veterinary care, subject matter expert exchange, and engineering support services to the countries visited.
Both missions stem from the successful relief efforts of the USNS Mercy’s response to the December 26, 2004 tsunami that racked much of Southeast Asia.
“Disaster can strike at any time,” said Capt. Jesse A. Wilson, Pacific Partnership mission commander and Commander, Destroyer Squadron 23. “It is our responsibility to provide assistance and training with a whole of government approach in an attempt to mitigate loss of life while helping the host nation and its people to return to a stable state.” Wilson went on to quote President Kennedy saying: “The time to fix the roof is not while it is raining.”
During this year's mission in Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, and the Federated States of Micronesia, the Pacific Partnership team has treated more than 38,000 patients, participated in thousands of contact hours of formal subject matter expert exchanges (SMEEs), and built classrooms and water catchment systems in all five of its mission ports.
After mission stops in six countries, Team Comfort has triaged 45,673 patients and participated in more than 300 hours of SMEEs. A team of 17 Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 28 and five U.S. Marines from 8th Engineer Battalion, Camp Lejeune, N.C., built classrooms, remodeled medical clinics and updated plumbing at five sites.
Both missions work closely with host nation personnel in each country visited.
“It was a pleasure working with a Colombian toxicologist, Dr. David Combariza, who worked at the Tumaco medical site,” said Capt. David Tanen, Continuing Promise 2011 emergency physician. “He was sent from Bógota to educate the people on the effects of the aerial spraying program the Colombian government is using to eradicate the coca plants. In addition to setting up an education booth, Dr. Combariza worked side-by-side with me to treat the patients who had waited to be seen.”
"The Papua New Guinea mission was designed to provide as much basic health care as possible," said Cmdr. Michael Smith, director of medical operations for Pacific Partnership 2011. "We work with host nations to engage in meaningful, on-the-job training, subject matter expert exchange that are sustainable after we depart."
Humanitarian, educational, and goodwill materials are donated by United States’ private sector at no cost to the government and personally distributed by our military personnel and civilian volunteers to those in need overseas through Project Handclasp.
NGOs, such as Project Hope, work hand-in-hand with U.S. forces aboard Cleveland and Comfort, providing medical, dental, and veterinary assistance to the countries they visit.
“Continuing Promise is about relationships,” said Capt. Brian Nickerson, Continuing Promise 2011 mission commander. “We hope our deployment to this region will build on and strengthen the long-standing and cooperative relationships between the United States and the countries we visit. It is these types of strong and enduring partnerships with partner nations, the interagency, and international and non-governmental organizations that are often called upon in the event of a regional crisis.”
This philosophy is echoed by the Pacific Partnership team. However, no mission can be accomplished successfully without the presence of quality people on the team.
“Continuing Promise 2011 represents a unique, and for many who make up the mission team, a once in a lifetime opportunity to serve aboard one of our nation’s two hospital ships,” said Nickerson. “The level of expertise and personal commitment that has been assembled in support of this mission is incredible. Every day I have the privilege of serving alongside some of our country’s finest Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and Civilian Mariners, as well as 11 Partner Nations, and a diverse and impressive group of private sector professionals representing many disciplines and organizations. The sacrifice that each person has made to join our mission team is greatly appreciated.”
Regardless of the location of the mission, the need for quality people to work together and develop a sense of camaraderie is necessary for successful execution.
“We are all gratified by the nature of this mission and the quality of people with whom I have the privilege to serve,” Wilson said. “Operations like this not only demonstrate the ability of the men and women of our armed services, but it showcases the incredible volunteer spirit of the American people who participate in the NGOs associated with our mission.”
Continuing Promise and Pacific Partnership are annual humanitarian assistance missions sponsored by the U.S. Navy. This year, Pacific Partnership completed its mission in Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and the Federated States of Micronesia. Continuing Promise has conducted its mission stops in Jamaica, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua and Guatemala and will continue its mission in Costa Rica, El Salvador and Haiti.
Since the first mission in 2006, Pacific Partnership has visited 15 countries, treated more than 250,000 patients and built over 150 engineering projects. Similarly, Continuing Promise has conducted 43 mission stops, treated more than 340,000 patients and completed more than 100 engineering projects since its start in 2007.
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