About the Author: Tom Weinz serves as the dedicated Foreign Service Liaison Officer for Pacific Partnership 2010.
Dili, Timor-Leste, lies beneath the outstretched arms of an 88-foot statue of Christ the King, standing on a majestic cliff that plunges to the edge of the Pacific. The statue was erected by engineers from the TNI, or Indonesian army, in 1995. President Suharto of Indonesia commissioned the statue as a goodwill gesture towards the people of what was then known as East Timor, as part of a final effort to win the hearts and minds of Timorese under Indonesian occupation. By 1999, Suharto had resigned, the people of East Timor voted overwhelmingly to become independent, and the country of Timor-Leste emerged as the newest democracy in Asia.
Pacific Partnership 2010 arrived last week in Timor-Leste, the final mission country that will receive the full complement of services available aboard the USNS Mercy (a smaller contingent will continue on to Papua New Guinea aboard an Australian ship). The Mercy dropped anchor near Dili on August 10, and teams immediately went ashore to set up medical programs and screen patients for surgery on board. This desperately poor country is the recipient of numerous programs to assist and strengthen its democratic and social institutions.
The United States Government recognized the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste immediately after its formation, and opened Embassy Dili in 2002. The embassy compound was the venue for our opening ceremony on August 11, where Vice Prime Minister Jose Luis Guterres welcomed Pacific Partnership and thanked us for our return mission (Pacific Partnership 2008 also visited Dili). The U.S. Navy also displayed its continued support for the Pacific Partnership programs by sending its newly-appointed Commodore for Pacific Partnership 2011 to observe our operations in Dili and to talk with participants engaged in current humanitarian projects.
Perhaps the showcase PP10 project jointly accomplished by U.S. Navy Seabees and Australian engineers is the sprawling compound of the Nu Laran school, a multi-building renovation project that is far more complex and time-consuming than usual. The school is centrally located and often hosts community gatherings and concerts, but was badly in need of substantial repairs. Since some of the buildings are completely finished, and others not yet begun, the contrast was very clear as a group of us toured the project on August 14. It is a project that will serve this struggling community well for many years to come.
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, celebrating U.S. Independence Day in Singapore, return to Indonesia, and work on projects in Indonesia.