About the Author: Tom Weinz is the dedicated Foreign Service Liaison Officer (FSLO) aboard the USNS Richard E. Byrd for Pacific Partnership 2009 (PP09).
Organizations love acronyms, so I had best introduce some of the most important ones right away. The U.S. Navy calls its humanitarian outreach “civic action programs,” or CAPs. By affixing the first few letters of each specialty (engineering, medical, dental, veterinarian), we are blessed with the catchy ENCAP, MEDCAP, DENCAP, VETCAP. There are also “community relations” programs: COMRELs. COMRELs are made up of volunteers, primarily from the ship’s crew, who go out each day and contribute in some way to the local communities. They may play soccer with local children, join a local group of volunteers to clean up a field or participate in some other local program, or help paint a school, hospital ward—whatever might be suggested by community groups. As a former Peace Corps volunteer, I see great similarities in the people-to-people relationships that are formed during Pacific Partnership visits, short term though they be. (By the way, the U.S. Peace Corps has an active program here in Samoa, and some of the volunteers will assist during PP09 with translation and other participation, according to their talents and interests.)
On July 1 (Samoa lies just east of the international date line; at noon in New York, which is 9 a.m. in Seattle, it is 5 a.m. on the same day in Samoa), our anxious crew awoke to rain coming down in sheets. The rain was so heavy that nothing was able to begin according to schedule. Somehow, the engineers, who are not easily deterred from their intended tasks, managed to raise their tents (they will camp at the National Hospital for the entire program, allowing them to work sun-up to sun-down on their ENCAP) and begin renovation of a family hall at the hospital. It is common here for families to provide food for members who are in the hospital, and to spend time with the person who is hospitalized. Although there is a large hall on the hospital grounds for family members to use, it had fallen into serious disrepair over the years. PP09 will completely renovate it during our stay.
A small MEDCAP also got underway today in the town of Lalomanu, in the southeastern part of Upolu. In spite of the downpour, more than 150 patients visited the clinic. I hope to visit that MEDCAP early July 2, and still make it back to Apia in time for the official opening ceremony, which will take place in a large park at the edge of Apia Harbor. The Prime Minister of Samoa will officially welcome PP09; Commodore Andy Cully, who leads PP09, will speak, as will Chargé Robin Yeager, officer in charge of the American Embassy in Apia. So we are very hopeful that the rain will stay at sea for the day.