While I love sharing my experiences on the Pacific Partnership with you, I want to you to hear other perspectives from the mission as well. As a result, I asked Lieutenant Commander Casey Mahon, U.S. Navy officer in charge of the Advance Echelon (ADVON) Team Bravo (for Vanuatu and Timor-Leste), to describe his role for the Pacific Partnership. He said:
"The Navy has taught me how to drive a ship, fix an engine and navigate through a harbor. But as I sat in a hot, crowded two-room medical clinic near Uato-lari in the remote Southeast corner of Timor-Leste I realized that one of the most important skills, patience, needs to be learned on the job in order to be fully appreciated. The District Administrator for Uato-lari, a hardened former fighter named Domingos, was trying to convince us to move our MEDCAP (MEDical Civic Assistance Project) from the chosen school next to the Helicopter Landing Zone (HLZ) in the center of town to a village some 10 miles out of town. Just as Napoleon's army ran on its stomach, so too does Pacific Partnership run on logistics; what is a simple two-hour walk over rough trails for these hardy Timorese mountain men was a chasm when it came to moving the miniature hospital that makes up one of our MEDCAP sites. He simply did not appreciate the physical impossibility of this request. So we kept talking about it for about an hour and a half, exchanging stories to help explain our points. In the end, we agreed to have a small four-person team go to one of the remote areas with officials from the Timorese Ministry of Health. It was a solution that both met his desire to provide medical care to the most remote people he was responsible for as well as respecting our logistical constraints in getting to those areas. It was compromise and, I like to think, friendship, that made possible the project taking place in Uato-lari next week.
"That story, for me, defines the job and methods of the Advanced Planning Team (ADVON) for Pacific Partnership. Our tasking is to find and negotiate the methods of the projects, which are recommended by the host nation and the American Embassy team, work out the logistical details crucial to their completion and, most importantly, develop a personal relationship with the people of the country in which we are working. Composed of six to eight individuals, the ADVON arrives in a country a month before the ship does in order to prepare for the large contingent of doctors, engineers, veterinarians, nurses, specialists, band members, and others who will descend ashore for an all-too-quick 12 to 14 days of frenzied activity. It is an experience which is very different from that of the folks deployed on board the USS CLEVELAND, and, though often difficult, sometimes dangerous and always fast-paced, I would not, for a second, ask for any other job.
"The ADVON process began back in October of last year, when we were notified of the Pacific Partnership mission. The ADVON teams began to investigate the countries we would visit and the operations we would conduct. From November to February, we traveled throughout the South Pacific, visiting our countries in what is called a Pre-Deployment Site Survey (PDSS). Then we went back and, working with the slowly growing group of professionals who make up the entire Pacific Partnership team, planned our operations.
"The scale of operations is, I think, hard to imagine from the pictures and snapshots that you see on Facebook or read about in news stories. Let me try to explain in words the magnitude by talking about its logistics. In Timor-Leste, we will end up using 91 vehicles (luckily not all on the same day), conduct over 65 helicopter flights, contract 480-days' worth of translators, consume around 1500 MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat), drink about 6,000 bottles of water, and utilize over 30 tents and canopies. All of this was conceived, planned, procured, and readied by the ADVON team prior to the ship's arrival When the main force comes rolling ashore, there is no time in the schedule to plan; our job is to make sure the medical professionals can start seeing patients, that the engineers can start building, and the band can start playing.
"The process is hectic, but the results are great. One of the proudest moments in my life came at the closing ceremony for the Pacific Partnership operations in Vanuatu. The ADVON Team was given a plaque by the Commander of the Vanuatu Police Force in honor of our work '…for the benefit of the people of Vanuatu.' Simple words, but they made the long hours, the arduous journeys, and the tough decisions all worth the effort."