About the Author: Tom Weinz serves as the dedicated Foreign Service Liaison Officer for Pacific Partnership 2010.
In a sense, Pacific Partnership is coming back home -- to Indonesia. The USS Lincoln Carrier Group led U.S. relief efforts during the terrible days of late 2004, after the deadliest natural disaster in recorded history pummeled the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, and then spread across the Indian Ocean. More than 230,000 people died in 14 countries, but Indonesia took the heaviest blow. That event led to discussions, action, and finally to the Pacific Partnership missions, in the hope that multiple nations can learn to work together quickly and efficiently during future tragedies to minimize the devastation and loss of life.
The government of Indonesia well understands how vulnerable this country of 17,500 islands (6,000 inhabited) is to natural disasters. Indonesia has more active volcanoes than any other country in the world (approximately one hundred), and is equally vulnerable to undersea quakes and turbulence. Indonesia is anxious to participate with the Pacific Partnership missions, and sent several officials, including the then Surgeon General, to our PP10 planning session in San Diego in March. The Indonesian Navy has its own hospital ship, the Kri Dr Suharso, and wants to coordinate with USNS Mercy during PP10 to both bring medical care to its own people who need it in the remote Maluku Province and conduct a joint exercise in humanitarian/disaster response.
Mercy stopped briefly near Jakarta on July 7 to pick up locally procured medications and approximately 26 medical translators, most of whom are medical students working with the NGO Hope Worldwide in Indonesia; since then, we have been sailing ever eastward. Sometimes we see land, sometimes only water, but we won't arrive at Tobelo on Halmahera Island until the morning of July 13, which offers some indication of the vastness of this country of islands.
With all of our new personnel picked up in Singapore, as well as the translators from Jakarta, Mercy is now carrying 1,042 people, many of whom will swing into action in the next 24 hours. There has been time for relaxing moments on the deck during this long crossing, but the action behind the scenes has continued unabated, with daily meetings, planning sessions and coordination with the myriad players who will be involved in our most extensive and longest cooperative effort of PP10.
You can trace the Mercy's journey from its initial announcement to preparations for launch, setting sail, arrival in Vietnam, work in Vietnam, farewell to Vietnam, arrival in Cambodia, community outreach in Cambodia, and celebrating U.S. Independence Day in Singapore.