About the Author: Tom Weinz is the dedicated Foreign Service Liaison Officer for Pacific Partnership 2010.
Pacific Partnership 2010 (PP10) has been underway for many of us since late 2009, but May 31 was day one of the actual mission. I watched the small Vietnamese fishing boats appear one by one out of the twilight as the sun rose at 5:14 a.m. (4:14 p.m. Sunday in Washington, DC), and within two hours we had boat traffic traveling between Mercy and Quy Nhon City (pronounced “we nyon” in Vietnamese). The Japanese amphibious ship JDS Kunisaki was at anchor nearby, with a Japanese medical team and volunteers from three Japanese NGOs, all part of PP10.
Vietnam and the United States have moved forward in nearly every category since normalization of relations in 1995. Pacific Partnership has visited Vietnam on three of its four missions, with greater joint participation each year. Twenty-three Navy engineers, popularly known as SeaBees, flew into Quy Nhon on May 10 and have been working with local Vietnamese volunteers on four different renovation projects. They have now been joined by our shipboard engineers, American and Australian, for the remaining 10 days of our mission.
Most of day one in Quy Nhon was all about movement; people and supplies had to move from Mercy to the port, through customs, and out to the civic action sites. Approximately 50 NGO volunteers arrived in Vietnam by commercial air, then passed through customs the opposite way, traveling from the port to the ship. Thanks to the superb coordination by the local Peoples' Committee, the U.S. Embassy, U.S. Navy advance teams, and countless individuals, any problems were minor and short-lived.
At four in the afternoon, right on schedule, we held an opening ceremony. Dr. Nguyen Thi Thanh Binh, Vice Chairwoman of the Provincial People's Committee, welcomed us all to Binh Dinh province. Commodore Lisa Franchetti spoke for PP10, followed by Deputy Chief of Mission Virginia Palmer from the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi. All stressed the cooperation and hard work that brought us to this culmination of Pacific Partnership 2010, and Ms. Palmer commented on the significance of the 15th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two countries, which will be celebrated throughout the year. We are especially grateful to the Japanese government for providing the Kunisaki, with its superb crew and senior medical personnel, who will also participate in PP10 in Cambodia. All in all, a very strong beginning for our teams, and I look forward to sharing more details from the mission over the next few weeks.