ARAFURA SEA - A contingent of Australian Defence Force and U.S. Pacific Partnership 2010 participants aboard HMAS Tobruk (L50) are transiting to Papua New Guinea in support of Pacific Partnership 2010’s last mission stop.

With USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) having completed its participation in Pacific Partnership 2010, and currently transiting to its homeport in San Diego, up to 64 U.S. military and non-governmental organization (NGO) personnel are sharing the unique experience of being underway aboard a partner nation ship, which departed Darwin, Australia, Aug. 27.

“Having the opportunity to embark onboard another nation’s naval ship is truly a unique opportunity,” said Cmdr. Peter Shumaker, lead medical officer-in-charge of the contingent. “This transit is affording us the time to get better acquainted with one of our key partners and see first-hand how they conduct their business at sea.”

Upon completion of Mercy’s last mission stop in Dili, Timor-Leste, Capt. Lisa Franchetti, Pacific Partnership mission commander, moved her staff to Tobruk, which will serve as the command platform for the visit to Papua New Guinea. Similar to the manner in which Pacific Partnership 2010 has been conducted in five countries thus far, sailing aboard the Australian ship is met with the same level of dedication and anticipation that was the trademark of the 90,000 ton floating hospital ship Mercy and its embarked crew.

“This is the first time in Pacific Partnership’s history where the command element has transferred to another ship, let alone another partner nation’s ship,” said Cmdr. Paul Scott, commanding officer of HMAS Tobruk. “We couldn’t be more pleased to host the Pacific Partnership team and ultimately assist the people of Papua New Guinea.”

This final leg of Pacific Partnership 2010 not only offers the Royal Australian Navy the opportunity to increase their participation in the mission, but also extends that same opportunity to the members of the Australian Regular Army (ARA) and the Australian Second Combat Engineer Regiment.

“This mission presents a unique opportunity to the (Australian) Army personnel aboard,” said Second-in-Command, Ship’s Army Detachment, LT Steven Beutel, from the 9th Petroleum Platoon, 10th Force Support Battalion, based out of Lavarack Barracks, Townsville, Queensland, Australia. “When I joined the army I did not expect to find myself working with the Australian Navy, much less U.S. Navy personnel and NGOs showcasing the versatility and professionalism of the Australian Defence Force in helping provide humanitarian assistance to a neighbor while building relations that may be called upon in a time of need.”

Some things are a constant from navy to navy.

“I am really impressed to see Australian sailors conduct their casualty drills,” said Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Leo Rodriguez. “As a qualified damage control petty officer, it is difficult to stand by the sidelines and watch them get in gear when the alarms go off. Being witness to how they conduct their drills makes you want to participate that much more, but at least I know my fellow Sailors and I are in good hands while aboard Tobruk.”

Tobruk is scheduled to initiate the mission in Rabaul when it arrives next week. During Pacific Partnership 2010 Mercy visited Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Timor-Leste. Also operating under the Pacific Partnership mission, USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) visited Palau in July. While in Rabaul, Tobruk will be joined by the USS Crommelin (FFG 37), and HMA Ships Labuan (L 128) and Tarakan (L 129).

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 host nations, partner nations, U.S. government organizations, and international humanitarian and relief organizations.