HONIARA, Solomon Islands - Members of Pacific Partnership 2013 (PP13) from the U.S. and Royal New Zealand Navy traded places for seven days, switching ships and returning to their respective vessels prior to the end of the PP13 mission's completion, Aug 5.
The Sailors from the amphibious dock landing ship USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52) and the amphibious sealift ship HMNZS Canterbury (LSL 421) cross-decked to experience the similarities and differences between the two ships, their operations and daily lives before Pearl Harbor departed for its homeport of San Diego, Calif., following the conclusion of the mission's last phase in the Solomon Islands.
"It was a really good experience and we got to do stuff we normally wouldn't do on Canterbury," said Royal New Zealand Navy Midshipman Gideon Van Zyl. "Working with Australians, Koreans and Americans was one of the coolest things we could do."
The personnel who cross-decked were pleasantly surprised by how similar operations were and how cohesively the Pacific Partnership mission was conducted across both ships. They also noticed the differences in the ship's layout designs and quality of life.
"We're both amphibious ships so we do the same operations," said Van Zyl. "The ships are slightly different because one is newer than the other, but they do the same things and carry out the mission the same way."
U.S. Navy Information Systems Technician 1st Class Brooke D. Hejl was struck by how small the ship's crew was compared to that of the Pearl Harbor, and how positive and welcoming they were to the U.S. Sailors aboard.
"The crew is amazing," said Hejl. "They have an infectious spirit and attitude towards the mission and life at sea that is very inspiring."
Cross-decking not only improves the skills and experiences at all levels of the organization, but also contributes to Pacific Partnership's mission and understanding.
"From an operational standpoint, cross-decking increases the situational awareness of our Sailors and fellow nations," said U.S. Navy Capt. Wallace Lovely, Pacific Partnership 2013 mission commander. "I hope they learned that other nations are as proficient, capable, and talented. They are our equals and together we can be even more powerful."
Throughout the mission and during the cross-deck crew swap, lasting relationships were built and knowledge was exchanged between the partner nations and the two ships' crews. They hope that missions like Pacific Partnership continue and missions like it may grow.
"I think all militaries need to try and understand, working together is a lot better than working separately trying to achieve the same goal," said Van Zyl. "Doing it together builds relationships with other people. I had a fun time on the Pearl Harbor and it was great to work with them."
With missions like Pacific Partnership, the nations involved are able to build not only water catchment systems and classrooms, but lasting relationships as well.
Hejl agreed. "We are not just building lasting relationships with the people in the countries we visit, but we are building lasting relationships with all the partner nations involved as well. It has been great to see the similarities, as well as the differences each nation has made in regards to the planning and execution of each successful mission."
As Pearl Harbor leaves the Solomon Islands, the Canterbury is scheduled to continue delivering supplies and completing projects in the islands for the final week of the Pacific Partnership 2013 mission. During the mission, Pearl Harbor visited the Pacific Island nations of Samoa, Tonga, Marshall Islands, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands.
Working at the invitation of each host nation, the annual Pacific Partnership mission combines U.S. Navy forces with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and regional partners that include Australia, Canada, Colombia, France, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and New Zealand to improve maritime security, conduct humanitarian assistance and strengthen disaster-response preparedness in the Indo-Asia-Pacific Region.