MOLUCCA SEA, Indonesia - Australian Defence Force (ADF) HMA Ships Labuan (L128) and Tarakan (L129) have joined USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) and its medical teams to participate in a disaster relief training exercise in Indonesia July 13 July – 3 Aug. as part of Pacific Partnership and Sail Banda 2010.

These heavy landing craft traveled to the provinces of North Maluku and Maluku, Indonesia, for the first phase of a ten-week mission in three host nations, providing essential ship to shore logistics as part of Pacific Partnership 2010.

The crews of both ships are excited to participate in the exercise and are looking forward to working with such a large multi-national team, said LEUT Steven Noakes, commanding officer of HMAS Labuan.

“Joining a team of 1,000 people from seven countries in the conduct of a disaster relief exercise is amazing. At our stops we have teams ashore hosting medical and dental clinics as well as conducting engineering repairs to local buildings,” said Noakes.

Medical staff from the seven partner nations, U.S. and Australian engineers, and volunteers from six non-governmental organizations provided their respective specialties in nine medical and dental civic action program (MED/DENCAP) sites in Jailolo, Mare Island, Sofifi, Ternate, and Tidore.

The five-day Sofifi MEDCAP’s scope of work consisted of primary medical care, pediatrics, optometry, and dental care.

“The clinic staff, the Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI), and the patients were all very friendly, helpful, and appreciative of the work that our team did while there. Our team had an extremely positive attitude that lead to an efficient and very successful mission site in Sofifi. I am very proud that we were able to serve so many people,” said Lt. Scott Pasieta, assistant officer in charge of the team. “Not to mention, to experience the natural beauty of Sofifi was an added bonus leaving all of us in admiration.”

In total, more than 40 personnel, 11 host nation interpreters, and medical supplies were transferred from Mercy to Labuan and Tarakan in support of the Sofifi MEDCAP.

“The hospitality and support of the Australian crew was really appreciated. By having the ability to remain overnight in Sofifi we were able to start our days that much earlier and serve the community longer hours. Otherwise we would have been forced to travel back and forth to the site – a trip well over one hour each way from Mercy’s location,” said Maj. Paul Kendall, team pharmacist and member of the New Zealand Defence Force. “By the time our MEDCAP was over, it was evident how well everyone came together to achieve the aims of the exercise for our visit.”

Through the collaboration of the ADF ships, Pacific Partnership’s visit to Indonesia, a two-phase disaster relief exercise which commenced with a planning conference in Jakarta in November 2009, has been able to effectively extend its reach. A table-top exercise scenario dealing with a natural disaster in the region was the first phase during which the multi-national team discussed plans to effectively employ Mercy, Indonesia’s own hospital ship, KRI Dr. Soeharso, and other ships from the international community, including the Australian ships.

“We are here now to conduct the practical phase of the exercise. Working with so many nations will provide us with an opportunity to benchmark our standards of training and enhance our capacity to respond in times of a real natural disaster,” said Noakes.

In addition to the logistical support provided by Labuan and Tarakan, the Australian Navy crewmembers have also volunteered their time to work ashore at the MEDCAP sites and community service projects in support of Pacific Partnership 2010.

“The crews enjoyed their time getting ashore to assist with community service projects and meeting both members of the wider Pacific Partnership team as well as the local people in the famous Spice Islands,” said LEUT Kevin Whatling, commanding officer HMAS Tarakan.

Pacific Partnership 2010 is the fifth in a series of annual U.S. Pacific Fleet endeavors currently being conducted in Indonesia as a disaster relief exercise aimed at strengthening regional partnerships between the U.S., partner and host nations, and international humanitarian and relief organizations, as well as building capability to respond to a natural disaster.