RABAUL, Papua New Guinea - – Pacific Partnership 2010 came to a successful conclusion here on Sept. 13 after visiting six countries throughout Southeast Asia over a span of five months, strengthening relationships and improving disaster response skills while providing humanitarian and civic assistance along the way.

The fifth in a series of annual U.S. Pacific Fleet-sponsored deployments to the Western Pacific region, Pacific Partnership 2010 (PP10) built upon previous missions with numerous innovations designed to enhance the partnership and provide assistance to remote areas.

This year’s effort saw an increase in the number of ships from other countries participating, brought aboard large numbers of non-governmental organization (NGO) volunteers, and creatively used helicopters and landing craft to insert medical and dental teams to set up health care clinics in remote locations, a key priority for several of the U.S. Ambassadors involved with the mission. Additionally, PP10 greatly expanded the scope of Pacific Partnership engineering projects by using advance fly-in teams of U.S. Navy Seabees.

Combined, the Pacific Partnership 2010 team – made up of professionals from all four U.S. military services, 10 partner nations, seven embarked NGOs, and 10 supporting NGOs – treated 109,754 patients, performed 859 surgeries, issued 60,883 glasses, completed 22 engineering projects, participated in 86 community service projects (COMSERV), and treated more than 2,800 veterinary patients.

“It is fitting that we bring Pacific Partnership 2010 to a close here in Rabaul, as the sight of Tavurvur smoldering above the harbor and the ash covering our boots every day are visible reminders of the importance of this mission and of preparing in the calm of a nice sunny day like today to respond in the dark days of crisis following a natural disaster,” said Pacific Partnership 2010 Mission Commander, Capt. Lisa M. Franchetti, at the mission’s closing ceremony, referring to the twin volcanic eruptions of Tavurvur and Vulcan that destroyed the capital city of Rabaul in 1994.

The Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), operated by a crew of 65 civilian mariners visited four of the six PP10 countries. Mercy provided extensive surgical capabilities and, combined with her “Band-Aid” utility boats and two embarked MH-60S helicopters from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 23 Detachment 4, supported a large cadre of medical and engineering professionals moving to and from their work sites ashore each day.

Several ships from other nations joined Mercy during Pacific Partnership 2010. While in Vietnam and Cambodia, Mercy operated with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force ship JDS Kunisaki (LST 4003), which hosted an embarked medical team and Japanese NGOs. Medical professionals from Kunisaki joined with those from Medical Treatment Facility (MTF) Mercy at medical and dental civic action programs (MED/DENCAPs), while her Sailors enjoyed participating in COMSERVs alongside personnel from Mercy.

During the Indonesia phase of PP10, conducted as a disaster relief exercise which lasted 22 days and visited three separate areas, MERCY was joined by KRI Dr Soeharso, Indonesia’s hospital ship, RSS Endeavour, with its own embarked medical team, as well as two Royal Australian Navy heavy landing craft (LCHs) which provided logistic support to Mercy and her teams. In addition to moving supplies to and from the shore, HMAS Labuan (L128) and HMAS Tarakan (L129) were used in a new and innovative way: as afloat staging bases for distant MED/DENCAP teams. Each ship embarked 21 medical and dental providers, veterinarians, assistants, and translators. The vessels transported medical teams to remote areas, where they would work ashore during the day and come back to the ships each night to sleep on the open vehicle decks on cots with mosquito netting. This unique concept significantly expanded the reach of the Pacific Partnership 2010 mission to 13,000 patients seen on remote islands and villages that have very little access to professional medical care. After demonstrating the success of this effort in Indonesia, the Australian ships were called upon to support two similar teams during the mission to Timor-Leste, visiting the isolated Oecussi enclave and the distant coastal town of Lautem.

Unique to this year’s mission was the addition of two additional stops supported by other ships under the Pacific Partnership umbrella. While Mercy provided care in Indonesia, USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) visited Palau, providing medical services and enhanced COMSERV projects to that island nation. Then on Aug. 24, over 60 people from Mercy, including Destroyer Squadron 21 staff, Amphibious Construction Battalion (ACB) 1 Seabees, MTF Mercy, and the U.S. Pacific Fleet Band transferred to HMAS Tobruk (L50) and set off for the final mission port of 2010: Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. This transfer marked the first time that a partner nation’s vessel was utilized as a flagship for a Pacific Partnership mission. Tobruk, which embarked additional Australian Defence Force personnel and members of the Papua New Guinea Defense Force on the way to Rabaul, was joined in Papua New Guinea by USS Vandegrift (FFG 48).

Throughout the mission, Pacific Partnership 2010 coordinated with host nation officials and U.S. embassy teams to identify the areas that would benefit most from assistance. Often, these areas were very isolated. Using a combination of cargo aircraft, helicopters, landing craft, and good old-fashioned driving, Pacific Partnership 2010’s medical teams were able to successfully reach these remote locations. In a key example of partnership, an USMC C-130 landed a MED/DENCAP team onto a dirt runway in Ratanakiri, Cambodia, 320 miles from where Mercy was anchored.

“Landing in Ratanakiri, I knew that this mission was unique,” said Lt. Cmdr. Sandy Kimmer, physician officer in charge of the Cambodian MED/DENCAPs in Ratanakiri and Kampong Cham. “We lived and worked alongside the RCAF (Royal Cambodian Armed Forces) and other Cambodian physicians, allowing for host nation referrals and continuity of patient care. This fostered relationships and helped to build the capacity of the Cambodian medical system.”

Cambodia also benefited from the unwavering commitment of the RCAF engineers, U.S. Navy Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11 and Amphibious Construction Battalion 1, and Australian engineers from the Second Combat Engineer Regiment based in Queensland, who drilled three water wells that are now bringing clean and safe water to local communities.

Despite the environmental challenges faced in Southeast Asia, the engineers were able to use their unique skills to complete useful engineering projects and, perhaps more importantly, build the capacity of the host-nation engineers to complete similar projects on their own in the future.

“Having to stand in the smoldering heat is challenging enough for anyone visiting any of these countries. Now, imagine having to work under these conditions in many cases outdoors, and the times you may find yourself indoors there is no air conditioning,” said ACB 1 Commanding Officer, Capt. Scott R. Lister. “That’s exactly the endurance and commitment every single engineer – from host nation military engineers and civilian volunteers to Australian Sappers - brought to the sites to help transform clinics, schools, and laboratories that serve beyond their intended uses as many of these facilities are used by their communities on a much larger scale than their name leads you to believe.”

During a ribbon-cutting ceremony earlier this week celebrating the completion of repairs to a health clinic that had been damaged by fire at the University of Natural Resources and Environment (UNRE) Vudal campus, UNRE’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Phillip Siaguru, summarized what Pacific Partnership represents.

“Pacific Partnership 2010 has truly changed my childhood impression of soldiers and armies, and I am sure many others of my age or older&ellips;who also had the impressions that soldiers cannot take up saws and hammers or needles and medicines&ellips;only guns,” said Siaguru.

"(These efforts) will leave a lasting impression on East New Britain, certainly this University and indeed, for me personally, I also know the army can play soccer, volleyball, and yes, they have a jazz band and can play music and dance as well as pose for a photograph with my daughter."

Siaguru’s observations were echoed in Timor-Leste, where the Pacific Partnership 2010 team was augmented by soldiers from the Timor-Leste Defence Force, or F-FDTL. Using Pacific Partnership 2010 as an opportunity to participate and to learn the mechanics of setting up and running a MED/DENCAP, the Australian Defence Cooperation Program is working with the F-FDTL to plan and run their own MED/DENCAP later this year.

As Pacific Partnership 2010 comes to a successful conclusion, preparations are already well underway to build on the relationships and achievements of the previous five missions. Planners, host and partner nation representatives, and NGO leaders will meet in San Diego later this month to refine plans for Pacific Partnership 2011.

“The formative stage of Pacific Partnership 2011 has already begun, and I wish everyone who will participate in that mission much success, as they will be part of something really special,” said Franchetti.

“I am very proud of the PP10 team and all that we have accomplished during our deployment this year. It was incredibly rewarding to watch this diverse group of individuals come together to support a common goal – to bring assistance to those in need,” said Franchetti. “Their infectious enthusiasm and creativity enabled us to reach out and build relationships and skills that will be sustained long into the future, ensuring a more effective response to a natural disaster in the region. I am already a bit envious of those who will have the chance to be involved with PP11 – it truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”