By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class R. David Valdez, Pacific Partnership Public Affairs
POHNPEI, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) (NNS) -- The Pacific Partnership 2011 team arrived in Micronesian waters for the final phase of the mission, July 3.
The majority of the team arrived aboard amphibious transport dock ship and Pacific Partnership 2011 flagship, USS Cleveland (LPD 7), which is housing the command staff, the crew, representatives from non-government organizations (NGOs), Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, and Airmen from each of the partner nations participating in the mission.
"The entire Pacific Partnership team is excited to get our mission started in the Federated States of Micronesia," said Capt. Jesse A. Wilson, Commander, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 23 and mission commander of Pacific Partnership 2011. "The fact that we are arriving in FSM with Chief Machinist's Mate Salper Rodriguez, a Pohnpei native and Cleveland crew member, makes this visit even more special. If that weren't enough, we have a member of the 2011 United States Naval Academy graduating class, Eugene Amor, who has returned to his native country and is playing a lead role in our mission here."
The Pacific Partnership team will have two additional challenges in this port.
First, Cleveland will not be able to secure pierside or anchor in any Micronesia harbor, due to navigation restrictions.
"We determined there are no suitable locations for the ship to anchor or moor in Pohnpei, so the ship and crew will remain underway during this mission port," said Lt. Jacqueline Ellis, Cleveland's navigator. "Besides that, Micronesia has quite a few coral reefs, and as stewards of the environment, we have to make sure that we don't harm the wildlife and their habitat."
Secondly, the team will visit Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Yap during their mission, which might only be 271 square miles of land mass (roughly the size of Austin, Texas), but it occupies over one million square miles in the Pacific Ocean (roughly the size of Alaska, Texas and California combined). These states are made up of island chains that are separated by hundreds of miles.
"This is an excellent opportunity for the team to get valuable experience working independently yet cohesively," said Pacific Partnership 2011's Operations Officer, Lt. Cmdr. Dave Burkett. "In a humanitarian assistance/disaster response (HA/DR) crisis, responders may have to carry out the mission in remote locations and work independently. We've been working up to this point at each of our mission ports, and we're ready to take on this final challenge."
The multinational team, which included military representatives from Australia, Canada, France, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Spain and Timor-Leste, also included a contingent from Japan which joined the Pacific Partnership team in Timor-Leste. The Japanese contingent was not expected to participate this year in the wake of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Tohoku, but they remain committed to engaging in the humanitarian assistance initiative.
The partner nations and NGOs of Pacific Partnership will engage in engineering, dental, medical and veterinary civil assistance projects and subject matter expert exchanges designed to increase interoperability between host nations and partner nations. The combined team of Pacific Partnership and host nations will also develop sustainable solutions for environmental and social challenges in the region.
"This particular mission will be a real test of our interoperability," said Royal Australian Navy Cmdr. Ashley Papp, Commander Australian Contingent, Pacific Partnership 2011. "While Captain Wilson will have to travel to the more remote locations, I will have the privilege and responsibility of representing Pacific Partnership at our main locations."
To date, Pacific Partnership treated more than 36,000 patients, engaged in more than 20 engineering projects, provided care for more than 1,500 animals, and conducted more than 40 community service projects in Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste.
The Pacific Partnership mission was born out of the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, which devastated Indonesia. Following that mission, Pacific Partnership began in 2006 and has gone to many countries in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, treated more than 240,000 patients, and continued to enhance interoperability with partner nations.