About the Author: Tom Weinz is the dedicated Foreign Service Liaison Officer (FSLO) aboard the USNS Richard E. Byrd for Pacific Partnership 2009.
The Scottish poet, Robert Burns, noted that our best laid plans “…gang aft agley.” Aye, Robbie, and June 30 was a fine example. The USS Dubuque was originally chosen for Pacific Partnership 2009; it is an amphibious ship with a well deck, which is an internal deck that can hold a landing craft. The landing craft is loaded within Dubuque itself, and is simply floated out to sea when ready. But in May, several Dubuque crewmembers contracted H1N1 flu, and the USNS Richard E. Byrd replaced the Dubuque. Byrd is a cargo ship and uses cranes to lower cargo onto piers or other fixed platforms. But Apia’s pier was busy today, so Byrd had to transfer all the cargo for the mission onto a local ship, the Samoa Express. Imagine two ships in heavy swells, trying to transfer cargo from one to the other without mishap. Thanks to expert seamanship, and a great deal of patience, the Samoa Express reached Apia and offloaded cargo at 6:00 p.m. Our weary crew and drivers then transported everything to National Hospital, where the medical mission will kick off on July 1.
The Samoa Express must now carry all the materials needed for the island of Savai’i (which I erroneously called “smaller” in my previous piece; Savai’i is physically larger, but has a population of about 45,000--approximately a quarter of Upolu’s) overnight on a four to five hour trip to two additional sites. Thanks to a pre-positioned team member waiting on Savai’i, and two intrepid Navy medical personnel willing to ride the Samoa Express all night, we expect to have everything in place and ready to go as scheduled. Yes we can.
In the meantime, volunteers from Japan, New Zealand, Australia and the United States have been arriving via commercial air and picked up by PP09 coordinators. Two fast rubber inflatable boats make the trip from Apia marina to the Byrd hourly until midnight, or later should one of the incoming flights be delayed. So everyone will get to bed a little later than planned tonight, weary from the extra effort required in overcoming unforeseen obstacles, but a wee bit proud to have taken them in stride.