In July of this year, Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell, U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Patrick Walsh, and USAID Deputy Director Nisha Biswal undertook a seven-day trip to eight Pacific Island countries to highlight the U.S. government's effort to promote defense, democracy, and development in the South Pacific. Concurrently, the USS Cleveland was approaching Micronesia, carrying what has become a hallmark of the "whole-of-government, 3-D's forward" effort: the annual training exercise and humanitarian mission known as Pacific Partnership.
On September 27 and 28, Pacific Fleet held its annual initial planning conference for Pacific Partnership 2012. Over 100 participants gathered for briefings on the early parameters of this year's mission, including representatives of the host nations, partner nations, NGOs, and several U.S. government and military organizations.
Pacific Partnership has been invited by the governments of Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Cambodia during the summer of 2012. The hospital ship USNS Mercy will carry up to 1,000 personnel, and visit each country for two weeks between June and September. These visits serve multiple purposes: they are training missions for the U.S. Navy, which is called upon more and more frequently during worldwide disasters, such as the 2010 Haiti earthquake and the earthquake/tsunami which devastated parts of Japan this year; they are exercises which bring civilian and military doctors, nurses, veterinarians, engineers, pilots, and logisticians together -- everyone needed to undertake a successful humanitarian response -- to work under real-life scenarios. Perhaps, most beneficial of all, they offer thousands of individuals an opportunity to meet each other, work together, and establish understanding and trust which will contribute to future cooperation when natural or man-made disasters occur.
PP12 planners have set a demanding schedule. Worldwide video teleconferences (VTCs) will begin on October 12 and be held weekly from now until the Mercy sails in the spring. Pre-Deployment Site Survey (PDSS) teams are being formed to visit the host countries in November and December and create detailed operational plans to be finally vetted by all participants prior to final announcement of the mission by the Navy. Based on the impressive detail presented during the initial planning conference, PP12 promises to build on all the earlier missions to train even more first-responders and to bring health services to many remote areas.