NUKU'ALOFA, Tonga - Tonga leaders and citizens participated in a ceremony alongside of U.S., partner nation service members and non-governmental organization volunteers to mark the commencement of Pacific Partnership 2013, June 12.
"It means a lot for the Kingdom of Tonga to have Pacific Partnership come back again after the successful missions in 2009 and 2011," said Tonga Navy Cmdr. Solomone Savelio, Pacific Partnership 2013 Tonga coordinator. "We are very grateful and thankful to the people of America and the government for allowing Pacific Partnership to come back."
Pacific Partnership provides the opportunity to enhance the collective ability to provide disaster relief assistance and is scheduled to spend ten days working closely with local citizens and civilian agencies in schools, hospitals and villages.
The Pacific Partnership 2009 and 2011 missions in Tonga treated a combined total of 8,527 patients, cared for more than 100 animals and conducted 12 engineering construction projects, including school buildings, bathrooms and water catchment systems, and medical clinics.
This year, Pacific Partnership members plan to continue to work together with the Tongan people to do more of these projects, and expand upon what they have accomplished thus far.
"Pacific Partnership will be a great opportunity for the whole country," said Tonga Defense Services 1st Lt. Latu Vahai, the first Tongan graduate from the United States Military Academy. "It will be a great contribution to our communities because of what I've seen in past programs."
Ribbon cutting ceremonies are expected to take place at each of the newly renovated and constructed sites.
"We are going to work on five different projects, mainly in schools and clinics," said French Army Marine Maj. Geangerome Solignac, French Marines Infantry Platoon officer in charge. "We expect to do the whole job in eight working days, so it's a very busy working program."
Tongan leaders and citizens expressed their excitement to work alongside the entire Pacific Partnership team.
"I think there will be an improvement to the overall economy and country," said Vahai. "When we build up the schools, I think there will be a great future. I am so thankful to all the countries who are here."
In addition to the medical, dental, engineering, veterinarian and subject matter expert exchange missions, the Pacific Partnership team and Tongan citizens also expressed their excitement to build friendships, exchange in each other's cultures and to learn from one another.
"There will be a lot of community relations that I am looking forward to, such as playing sports and the donations of books," said Savelio. "We value our relationships and friendships, and we will build that in the next 10 days by enhancing cooperation and coordination in order to do better in the future with natural disaster response."
This year marks the eighth iteration of the Pacific Partnership mission, which was born out of the devastation when a tsunami swept through parts of Southeast Asia.
Since then, the mission has been fostering relationships with nations and organizations in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. Pacific Partnership builds a team approach to disaster response-preparedness, so that when crises such as the 2009 magnitude 8.0 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Tonga, Samoa and America Samoa occur, the international community is better prepared to respond swiftly and decisively.