Thousands of residents of the Indonesian city of Manado, North Sulawesi, awoke on May 31 to see an enormous white ship lying at anchor in the harbor. America's premier hospital ship, the USNS Mercy, had arrived before dawn, following a voyage of 6,886 nautical miles from San Diego, California.
Pacific Partnership 2012 (PP12), the seventh annual iteration of the humanitarian exercise begun by the U.S. Navy following the tragic 2004 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Banda Aceh on the Indonesian Island of Sumatra, began officially when the first "Bandaid" boat from Mercy reached a Manado pier on the city's waterfront. The small boats shuttled passengers between Mercy and Manado until late in the evening.
Once ashore, PP12 teams of military, civilian, U.S. government and NGO personnel joined their Indonesian counterparts to meet and discuss the activities which will take place prior to Mercy's departure for the Philippines in mid-June. The overall exercise focuses on all aspects of responding to a natural disaster, so initial meetings took place in a joint command center set up in a local Manado hotel. Concurrently, a surgical contingent went directly to Siloam Hospital in the heart of the city, and began to screen potential surgical patients -- all of whom had been pre-screened by local health officials in previous weeks -- for surgeries on board the Mercy. The mission will include a further "real world" exercise when Mercy sails the evening of June 2 for the small island communities of Siau, Sangihe, and Talaud to the north. Surgeries will continue during the transit, until returning to Manado on June 6.
Mercy will carry most of the PP12 personnel on the journey to the islands, but a significant minority will remain in Manado, most participating in interactive symposiums called SMEE (Subject Matter Expert Exchange), which will focus on everything from disaster relief to veterinarian issues. PP12 experts will emphasize training and technical issues, while local participants will provide insight into local and regional problems, and how these are being addressed. For example, Indonesia is a notoriously active volcanic region, with 17 active volcanoes just on this island of Sulawesi. We look forward to a great deal of sharing and learning during the mission.