QUY NHON, Vietnam - Adm. Robert F. Willard, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, made a two-day stop in central Vietnam here June 8-9 during his Southeast Asia visit to personally witness the diverse team-building of Pacific Partnership 2010.

“We think this mission is wonderful. You need look no further than this courtyard to see the many thousands of people that this mission continues to service,” said Willard, addressing reporters at the Hai Cang school’s medical civic action program (MEDCAP) after receiving a tour of a local school which had been temporarily transformed into a community health clinic. This MEDCAP site provided optometry, dental, and primary care services to more than 500 patients each day.

Pacific Partnership 2010 is the fifth in a series of annual U.S. Pacific Fleet humanitarian and civic assistance endeavors aimed at strengthening regional partnerships among U.S. government organizations, host nations, partner nations, and international humanitarian and relief organizations. Vietnam serves as the first of six host nations to welcome the Pacific Partnership team this year.

By providing basic medical services ashore or more in-depth procedures and surgery onboard USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), anchored off Quy Nhon’s coast for the visit, Pacific Partnership provides the opportunity to strengthen the deep relationships and refine the skills necessary to ensure that its diverse array of participants are capable of quickly responding to a natural disaster by delivering humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. And the mission does not only provide health care – it also refurbishes clinics and schools with U.S. Navy Seabees, Australian engineers, and local Vietnamese volunteers, and engages in community service projects.

“We do this along with our many partners and non-governmental organizations that have increasingly chosen to do this with us,” said Willard.

One of those non-governmental organizations who teamed up with the U.S. Navy in response to the tsunami that struck Indonesia and the surrounding area in 2004 is Project HOPE, founded in 1958 on the willingness of medical professionals to travel the world on a floating hospital ship.

Faye Pyles, operations officer for the 25-person team embarked onboard Mercy, has seen a corresponding increase in the efficiency of her organization when it comes to collaborating with the Navy and others.

“If we had to respond to a natural disaster without all the wealth of knowledge we’ve managed to accumulate over the past five years, it would be a challenge,” said Pyles. “We’re at a point now where a strong foundation has been laid, and we feel confident about our ability to respond if called upon to do the real thing.”

Pyles, along with the crew of Mercy and participants from partner nations and non-governmental organizations, had the opportunity to meet Willard as he toured the 69,000 ton hospital ship.

“Certainly the positive tone set by the reception of our NGO teams is a reflection of the support from senior leadership,” said Pyles..

In addition to meeting Pacific Partnership members, Willard had the opportunity to meet the Director, Vietnamese Military Medical Department, Lt. Gen. Chu Tien Cuong, who was also onboard Mercy for a demonstration of the ship’s advanced medical capabilities.

“We should provide more medical-related cooperative work together in the future,” Willard said.

Willard’s visit to Mercy provides an opportunity to reflect on the continuing growth in cooperation between the U.S. and Vietnam, as 2010 marks the 15th year since the normalization of relations between the two countries.

“I came here from Hanoi, where I was meeting with senior leadership in Vietnam. We all think the 15 years of relationships have gone by very quickly. But they’ve also been manifest by continuing advancements, evolution in a positive direction,” said Willard. “We very much desire to continue that advancement in relations with Vietnam, and we talked about many opportunities we have together, areas of common interest between the U.S. and Vietnam that will be the foundation for that advancement.”