Pacific Partnership 2013 concluded its final mission port, the Solomon Islands, Aug. 13.
U.S. Navy forces were joined by several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and regional partners that included Australia, Canada, Colombia, France, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, and New Zealand with the goal of improving maritime security, conducting humanitarian assistance and strengthening disaster-response preparedness throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
Pacific Partnership 2013 visited six host nations to include Samoa, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Republic of Kiribati and the Solomon Islands. Overall, Pacific Partnership held 85 disaster response events, 49 engineering civic action projects, treated 18,679 medical and dental patients, held 136 medical training engagements, evaluated 4,925 animals, cleared more than 2,100 rounds of unexploded ordnance, hosted 208 subject matter expert exchanges and organized 102 community service events.
Pacific Partnership operated from six different platforms of ships from the U.S. Navy, the Royal New Zealand Navy, the Royal Australian Navy, the Japan Self-Defence Force Navy and the Military Sealift Command to complete the mission. Ships included the amphibious dock landing ship USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52), the destroyer JDS Yamagiri (DD 152), the landing heavy ship HMAS Tobruk (L 50), the dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Mathew Perry (T-AKE 9), the diving support vessel HMZS Manawanui (A09) and the amphibious sealift ship HMNZS Canterbury (LSL 421).
“Pacific Partnership 2013 is different in many ways from missions in the past. We focused on subject matter expert exchanges, we provided direct care when we could, but that was not our priority,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Wallace Lovely, Pacific Partnership 2013 mission commander. “We also had a very big footprint in multinational leadership. Our partner nations were involved in every layer of command and control. The impact we left ashore, every time we left a nation, we left friends, smiles and hope. We left kids seeing dedication and commitment to fellow human beings. We left lessons that we probably won’t be able to see the results of in our lifetime, but generations from now those kids are going to tell their kids about their interactions with the team of Pacific Partnership 2013”
The distribution of operations, at times spanning three different nations and three different ships, challenged the Pacific Partnership team, but the mission was completed and was widely considered a success by all involved.
“We had a lot of ground to cover. We had a very complex schedule of events from Samoa all the way to the Solomon Islands,” said Lovely. The amount of people needed ashore to execute those events, as many as 350 in one country, and without the ability and plans to get those people ashore everyday and to have backup plans everyday, the mission wouldn’t have happened. Every event was accomplished 100 percent.”
Pacific Partnership 2013 also marked the first time in the mission’s history that partner nations took the lead for an entire phase of the mission, with Australia leading in Papua New Guinea and New Zealand leading in Kiribati and the Solomon Islands.
Members of the Pacific Partnership team focused on knowledge exchange throughout the mission to better prepare host nations to help themselves in the event of a natural disaster.
“Sometimes in primary healthcare it’s not always viable to treat patients because we can give them medication today but they’ll need more in a couple of weeks time, so we can’t leave a lasting legacy,” said New Zealand Army Maj. Robert Duncan, a doctor, after a subject mater expert exchange in the Solomon Islands. “If we can just give a little bit of education to the healthcare staff out here it leaves a far more long lasting legacy.”
Pacific Partnership personnel also delivered and installed dozens of water catchment and filtration systems to provide fresh water to islanders throughout the Pacific, where droughts can often be devastating to the population.
“We did an overall presentation on rain water catchment systems, the need for a filter and how it worked. We also did breakout sessions where we did hands-on training on how to assemble and maintain each of the systems,” said J. Scott Remer, an engineer with the University of California, San Diego. “Afterwards we discussed some of the nuances and difficulties that may occur in the future and how to fix them. We also gave presentations on what likely contaminants are, their effects and how to remove them.”
This year’s mission was the eighth iteration of Pacific Partnership. Born out of the devastation wrought by the 2004 tsunami that swept through parts of Southeast Asia, Pacific Partnership began as a military-led humanitarian response to one of the world’s most catastrophic natural disasters. Building on the success and goodwill of this operation, the hospital ship USNS Mercy returned to the region in 2006 for the inaugural Pacific Partnership mission. The mission staff expanded to include partner nation militaries and NGOs working to increase the disaster relief capabilities of Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines and East Timor.
Press Release, August 15, 2013; Image: US Navy