About the Author: Thomas E. Weinz is the dedicated Foreign Service Liaison Officer for Pacific Partnership 2010.USNS Mercy left pier one at San Diego Naval Base at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 1. An advance team that will number 17 people over the next week also left on Saturday to fly directly to Ho Chi Minh City. This team will travel on to Quy Nhon City and work non-stop until Mercy arrives in late May.
Unfortunately, Mercy sailed straight into the roughest seas I have experienced personally. (As I type this, the keyboard slides back and forth along my desk.) More than a few colleagues, including some seasoned sailors, were not well that day. Nearly 500 of us are on the ship currently, and we will pick up more in Pearl Harbor and Guam.
So what are we all doing during the long transit? Some, of course, are running the ship. The pre-operational phase is daunting. Imagine a good-sized hospital in your community. And imagine that the hospital is going to be staffed and run by doctors and nurses and administrators from all over the United States, and even some personnel from foreign countries, but none are familiar with the hospital. For most of us, the day starts around 6:00 a.m. with breakfast, and continues until well after dinner.
All of us are working on our own specific parts of this challenging mission, but we are also learning some history of both Mercy and Pacific Partnership. This well-known hospital ship began its life as an oil tanker, the SS Worth, in 1976. She didn't become the USNS Mercy until 1986. Mercy's role following the devastating tsunami in December of 2004 was well documented. What happened after that effort is not as well known.
The crew went on to conduct medical and dental missions in Alors, Indonesia and Dili, East Timor, which is known today by its Portuguese name, Timor Leste. Tragedy hit Indonesia once again in March of 2005, when an 8.7 magnitude earthquake struck Nias, an island off the northwest coast of Sumatra, and Mercy steamed back to perform more than 19,000 medical procedures over the next month. En route home from Nias, Mercy stopped in Papua New Guinea to assist Manam islanders forced to flee their homes following a major volcanic eruption in late 2004.
Mercy's medical teams trained local health care providers at Modilon General Hospital in Madang, Papua New Guinea, while treating the Manam islanders. Modilon created Mercy Park on the hospital grounds, and many of us who later served at the American Embassy in Papua New Guinea or took part in later Pacific Partnership missions have planted trees in Mercy Park. These selfless acts of kindness by Mercy's personnel in late 2004 and early 2005 became the germinal idea that has blossomed into the current partnership of many countries, ships, NGOs and U.S. Navy personnel. And every one of us -- whether medical staff, naval personnel, civilian mariner or civilian -- is proud to carry on these exceptional missions.