NOUMEA, New Caledonia - Amphibious dock landing ship USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52) along with embarked Pacific Partnership 2013 personnel arrived in Noumea, New Caledonia, June 25.
While in port, U.S. and partner nation service members along with non-governmental organization volunteers will get a chance to experience liberty in the city, and continue to foster a relationship with the capital that dates back to World War II, when Noumea operated as a U.S. Military hub.
Additionally, an engineering element from the Battalion of French Armed Forces Marine Infantry will be departing. The element, stationed in New Caledonia, participated in Pacific Partnership, helping on the islands of Samoa and Tonga with multiple engineering and construction projects.
"The French have been brilliant," said Pacific Partnership 2013 Deputy Mission Commander, Royal New Zealand Air Force Group Capt. Darryn Webb. "I went out to a number of engineering engagement sites, and it was plainly obvious to me that the French, Americans, New Zealanders and the host nation teams integrated really well."
In Samoa and Tonga, 24 engineering projects were undertaken by the French engineers working in cooperation with U.S. Navy Seabees, U.S. Marine, New Zealand, host nation and Royal Tongan Marine engineers. The team's efforts tackled projects such as school renovations, the addition of classrooms and the installation of restrooms and water catchment systems.
"In the very beginning, we had some problems because we don't work the same way," said French Armed Forces Maj. Jean Jerome Solignac, engineering element commander. "In France and New Zealand, we use the metric system but the U.S. doesn't. It was hard to translate from one system to another."
Along with the differences in measurements, the team wasn't always able to communicate using the same language leading teammates to use some creative communication measures.
"They all knew just enough English that you can make yourself understood a little bit but sometimes you had to make noises and mime with your hands what you wanted to get done, and they had to do the same thing with us," said Steelworker Constructionman Jonathan Walsh, engineer with Amphibious Construction Battalion 1. "It's one of those things that when you work together, we really put an effort to get things done."
Walsh said it was a great experience and opportunity to work alongside the French Armed Forces, Marine Infantry Battalion.
"I think it would be a great advantage for us to keep working with them for the interoperability of both our nations," said Walsh. "I think it's a key thing that as our world becomes more united, we are able to work with other cultures."
Now in its eighth year, Pacific Partnership originated from the international response to the 2004 tsunami that swept through parts of Southeast Asia.
Working at the invitation of each host nation, Pacific Partnership is joined by partner nations that include Australia, Canada, Colombia, France, Japan, Malaysia Singapore, South Korea and New Zealand to strengthen disaster response preparedness around the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.