Pacific Partnership 2010: Heading Back, Looking Forward

Posted by Thomas E. Weinz
August 30, 2010
USNS Mercy Anchored Near Timor-Leste

About the Author: Tom Weinz serves as the dedicated Foreign Service Liaison Officer for Pacific Partnership 2010.

Pacific Partnership 2010 aboard the USNS Mercy came to its termination on August 23rd, with a closing ceremony held in Dili, Timor-Leste, followed by the transfer of Commodore Franchetti and about seventy personnel to the Royal Australian Navy amphibious ship the HMAS Tobruk, which will conduct a smaller mission near Rabaul, New Britain Island, Papua New Guinea (PNG). I left both Mercy, which is on its way home to San Diego via Guam and Pearl Harbor, as well as the PNG group, to fly from Dili to Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, where I am writing this piece.

As anyone who has followed Pacific Partnership 2010 knows, this project has been an impressive effort. It has involved more than 2,000 people from military, NGO, and partner nation organizations. We renovated schools, hospitals and public buildings in Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and Timor-Leste, and drilled three badly-needed water wells in Cambodia. PP10 medical providers treated tens of thousands of patients, dispensed many thousands of pairs of eyeglasses, and provided needed basic medications to remote locations and islands. Volunteers visited orphanages and other public-assistance facilities almost daily while in our mission ports, and took part in frequent public relations activities (soccer, basketball, mangrove planting) which ensured people-to-people interaction on an unprecedented scale, compared to earlier Pacific Partnership missions.

Planning for Pacific Partnership 2011 has been ongoing for some months, and the official Initial Planning Conference is scheduled for September 28 and 29 in San Diego. Preliminary plans call for a return of the USS Peleliu (used in the 2007 Pacific Partnership) to some of the island nations of the South Pacific. Based on the extremely favorable reactions to Pacific Partnership over the years from the countries which have been visited, it will be difficult to choose a final list of mission countries for 2011 -- but that decision is expected by September first.

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.

Comments

Comments

Jumper R.
|
California, USA
August 30, 2010

Jumper R. in California writes:

Hydrology is so important especially now I used to work with another company called life water a non-profit doing this kind of service. I love seeing that we are putting our efforts into this kind of work. also i loved that the ship you were on was the USS Peiliu - One of the great forgotten battles of WWII :)

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
August 30, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Tom Weinz

Silly question perhaps, but with what's going on in Pakistan, how long would it take to re-supply the Mercy and be on station in the Arabian sea?

Seems to be "epic" enough crisis to call on all available resource internationally.

Probably a question better asked by USAID's admin. officially, but that's just my opinion. I'm just wondering if it's do-able logisticly with good speed? Say 2 weeks?

Thanks,

EJ

Tom W.
|
District Of Columbia, USA
September 18, 2010

DipNote Blogger Tom Weinz replies:

Apologies, but I have been incommunicado for the past few weeks, diving the beautiful waters of Indonesia. Eric's question about resupplying MERCY and sending her to Pakistan is an excellent one. Unfortunately, resupplying, restaffing, and then sailing to Pakistan was far more time consuming than sending USN assets that were closer and better able to respond immediately. As an aside, the JMSDF KUNISAKI, which partnered with MERCY during PP10 in Vietnam and Cambodia, was sent to Pakistan to assist after the terrible floods and remains there currently.

In addition, I completely agree with Jumper's comment on the significance of providing water to communities, and believe we'll see more wells drilled by Pacific Partnership SeaBees in the future.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
September 18, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Hi Tom,

Welcome back, sounds like you had a good time.

Knowing that assets were already on the way, I figured in a mega- catastrophe affecting millions, that folks are going to eventually be rotating assets and frankly in this particular case, even if all the assets available were allocated to Pakistan, you'd still have a serious threat of water born disease in a long term impact on the population, but folks are doing what we can I gather and that's a good thing.

If I could put this in a bit larger scope, Pacific Partnership is I think capable of evolving into something intregral to the new "architecture" of which FM Rudd and Sec. Clinton were speaking about this past week.

Like that idea about converting the USS Kitty Hawk I had awhile back, here we have in the Arabian Sea virtually the same DoD capability, helicopters included.

Thing is, it's not on it's normal station, as a security asset (non proliferation, PSI etc.) so when you look at the kinds of natural disasters and the frequency, as well as the great number of people at risk you really need a full time disaster task force on the scale of dealing with international piracy.

At this rate of natural disasters occuring globally, folks will be steaming from one disaster to the next almost as soon as they get resupplied.

I think in addition to this, although this is totally outside your focus, that unless there is some kind of agreed upon global visa waver to allow safe haven to be provided in third countries to get folks out of harm's way (and I don't mean into refugee camps), say for up to one year "visitor's status" with a permit to seek employment during that time, I don't know that folks can take care of everyone fast enough to protect populations when millions are at risk.

I think folks have to work the problem from both ends to help a nation like Pakistan recover in current circumstance.

In the end it helps pay for itself in reducing the ammount of human trafficing, abuse of refugees in all aspects, and gives them somewhere to land for a spell to be able to pick up the pieces of their lives with a roof over their heads, not a sheet of plastic.

But realisticly, the only way to pay for this is to eliminate the military tensions among nations to then free up the assets available to protect populations and redirect funds for that purpose.

I mean cutting State's and USAID's budget is like Congress shooting itself in the foot as far as our national interests are concerned.

But that's another disaster in the making.

Glad you thought it was a good question, and I hope folks that make these kinds of decisions will think about what I've said on evolving disaster response for some time now on this blog.

Best,

EJ

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