About the Author: Tom Weinz is the dedicated Foreign Service Liaison Officer (FSLO) aboard the USNS Richard E. Byrd for Pacific Partnership 2009.
The annual humanitarian mission, this one known simply as Pacific Partnership 2009 (PP2009), is about to begin. It will commence on the two major (and the one very small) islands of Samoa, which are called Upolu and Savai’i, and will continue across thousands of miles of the Pacific over the next several months, visiting five island nations, ending in the Republic of the Marshall Islands on September 18.
The devastating earthquake-induced tsunami that struck on December 26, 2004, killed more than 200,000 people in 13 countries, more than 128,000 in Indonesia alone. The United States Navy responded forcefully to that disaster, both with ships in the area immediately following the tragedy, and later by sending the large hospital ship, the USNS Mercy, to help assist some of the tens of thousands of Indonesians affected by the destructive flooding and its aftermath. Out of the experience of that event, Pacific Partnership was born. The USNS Mercy conducted five-nation humanitarian missions in 2006 and 2008; the USS Peleliu undertook a similar mission in 2007. The USNS Richard E. Byrd was selected for PP2009.
As I write this, the Byrd is approaching the smaller Samoan island of Savai’i, carrying 110 doctors, nurses, dentists, veterinarians, engineers and support personnel. U.S. Navy personnel are in the majority, but there is a substantial number of participants from partner nations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and other U.S. and international government agencies. Others will arrive by air over the next two days, as will several U.S. Navy planes carrying additional personnel and materials; a ten-person advance team has been here in Samoa working with the U.S. embassy and local officials since June 3. Our small American embassy in Apia, the capital, has played a major role in the preparations, from issuance of the initial diplomatic note of request to the Samoan government, to providing local expertise and contacts within the pertinent ministries.
The Byrd carries two helicopters and a number of small boats. In addition, local boats, trucks, cars, ferries, and volunteers will be utilized to move everything and everyone necessary to carry out the medical programs and engineering renovations (primarily to schools and hospitals) that will work in pre-selected sites on both islands over the next ten days. (A one-day medical program, and another one-day engineering program will be carried out on the tiny island of Apolima, which lies between the two major islands.) As of this moment, all of us who have been working on this mission for a very long time are ready to move everything into place for Day One of PP09 on site: June 30 at the National Hospital in Apia.
Read Tom Weinz's next entry from aboard the USNS Richard E. Byrd.