Pacific Partnership begins with a daunting challenge: several hundred people, many of whom recently met, need to move tons of equipment into a foreign country; travel to work in a military landing craft, a large Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB), or by Navy helicopter; move overland to a location they have never seen; and work smoothly and efficiently from the moment they arrive until departure. Building a cohesive unit that operates on the basis of a unified mission statement, as well as smaller units for logistics, medical, dental, veterinarian, and engineering projects, has defined life aboard the USS Cleveland since leaving Pearl Harbor on April 4.
Life aboard ship contributes greatly to the critical team-building aspect of the mission. Participants share close quarters, eat meals together, practice drills together, and are always within walking distance of the next meeting (a mixed blessing...). As Commander Ashley Papp of the Royal Australian Navy wrote in his recent blog, learning to work together now will pay huge dividends in times of crisis, and ensure that we deliver "…the right support, at the right time, in the right way when needed.” Part of my personal mission responsibility is to present historical/cultural/overview briefs to everyone on the ship before arriving in the next country -- about 10 briefs to 50 people in each session. It is an opportunity to meet and work with every person on this remarkable journey.
We are currently very close to Tonga, which was emphasized by the “loss” of a full day. We fell asleep on Sunday, crossed that imaginary line in the Pacific Ocean (the International Date Line) and woke up on Tuesday. April 11 is blank in our diaries and calendars. Pacific Partnership last visited in 2009, to the Ha'apai island group. (Tonga is composed of three island groups of 170 islands, 40 of which are inhabited.) Pacific Partnership 2011 will work throughout the northernmost island group, known as Vava'u. While in Vava'u, we will send a team south to the Ha'apai group to evaluate the impact of Pacific Partnership 2009 for the local population. Evaluations here and in other locations from past missions will provide important data for future Pacific Partnership missions.