The world has been starkly reminded in 2011 that we cannot possibly know the exact time or ferocity of earthquakes, resulting tsunamis, volcanic eruptions; we can only react as rapidly and with as much coordination and cooperation as possible. That is the goal of all the men and women who take part in Pacific Partnership 2011, which began on March 21 when the USS Cleveland sailed from the San Diego naval base and started its journey of 18,000 nautical miles over the next five months. Reminiscent of 2010, the Cleveland experienced heavy seas for several days; even as I write this on March 26, the sea is restless.
Many friends, and many DipNote and Facebook followers of Pacific Partnership, ask if we will be going to Japan, as last year they asked if we would go to Haiti. In reality, there are many former participants in Pacific Partnership who are now in Japan (the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force ship JDS Kunisaki was part of PP10), others are in Haiti, others are lending a hand throughout the world. But our annual mission remains consistent: to learn, train, and cooperate with our friends and allies in the South Pacific to minimize loss of life when tragedy strikes. That window of opportunity is brief, but if people who live in danger zones know exactly what to do when the earth shakes, or the tsunami warning sirens sound, lives will be saved. Similarly, if ships and helicopters and trained teams are deployed in vulnerable areas, assistance will reach a great number of people who would not survive without it.
After months of preparation, most of us currently aboard USS Cleveland are getting to know each other and the ship. We are participating in obligatory shipboard drills, studying concepts of operation for each country and working on our own individual parts of the greater mission. The helicopters, so crucial to our mission, are being put through their paces. Pilots are practicing flight operations, and the flight crews are similarly getting the lay of the ship.
We will arrive in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, shortly, and will spend the week of March 28 making final preparations and loading all the remaining supplies and materials we need for the mission. An additional 70 NGO, partner nation, and U.S. military personnel will fly into Hawaii and board Cleveland there. In just over five years Pacific Partnership has developed a stellar reputation among the countries we visit. All of us aboard Cleveland are planning to work with our host-country counterparts to make PP11 another outstanding achievement.