In this file photo, USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) transits through the Pacific Ocean, May 26. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Laurie Dexter)

SAMAR, Philippines - Military Sealift Command's hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) arrived in the Philippines June 18, to begin the second host nation visit of the Pacific Partnership 2012 (PP12) mission.

Now in its seventh year, Pacific Partnership is the largest annual humanitarian and civic assistance (HCA) mission in the Asia Pacific region and is designed to strengthen regional partnerships and enhance a collective ability to respond to natural disasters and crisis. PP12 is scheduled for a four-and-a-half month deployment with visits to the host nations of Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia.

This year's Pacific Partnership participants represent a multinational, multi-organizational team that includes joint military and civilians from Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Japan, Malaysia, Peru, the Netherlands, and the United States; Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) including Global Grins, Latter Day Saints Charities, Project Handclasp, Project Hope, University of Hawaii Schools of Nursing and Engineering, University of California San Diego Pre Dental Society, and World Vets.

At the invitation of the Republic of the Philippines and in partnership with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), participants will employ their collaborative HCA capabilities to provide medical, dental, veterinary, public health services, civic engineering, and disaster response activities to help the local communities of Northern and Western Samar, including San Isidro, Calbayog and Catbalogan. Working with local community leaders, the Partnership will provide a tailored approach to humanitarian and civic action projects as well as subject matter expert exchanges enabling the communities to better prepare to respond in crisis. "Developing a plan and having a clear public information campaign will definitely help the next time a disaster strikes," said Capt. James Morgan, mission commander for PP12. "I like to call this 'preparing in calm to respond in crisis,' which is the motto of Pacific Partnership 2012."

This is the third return visit for USNS Mercy to the shores of Samar. Calbayog city hosted the Mercy and crew of Pacific Partnership 2008, and this year also marks the 25th anniversary of Mercy's maiden voyage and first visit to Calbayog in May of 1987.

"We have enjoyed looking at the historical photos of Mercy's visit to Samar in 1987," said Capt. Timothy Hinman, commanding officer of the medical treatment facility hospital aboard Mercy. "We are very happy to be returning to Samar to celebrate this very special Silver Anniversary."

Mercy will remain anchored offshore due to her large size and depth compared to the Calbayog pier facilities. At a length of 984 feet, Mercy will move patients, doctors and nurses, and crew back and forth using two 33-foot utility boats, 12 to 16 hours per day, ferrying passengers from ship to shore and back.

"This is a challenging and unique mission that requires an advanced level of seamanship, dedication and sensitivity," said Capt. Olmsted, Mercy's civil service master. "My crew is looking forward to participating in the shore mission as well, assisting with specialized engineering projects and subject matter exchanges."

Immediately following the December 2004 tsunami that struck Oceania and the Indian Ocean basin, the U.S. hospital ship USNS Mercy was deployed to support international relief efforts. Now in the seventh year, Pacific Partnership is aimed at strengthening regional relationships with Southeast Asian and Oceania nations that might be called upon to respond to natural or humanitarian disasters.

Pacific Partnership 2012 is led by three different element commanders: Capt. James Morgan, mission commander for Pacific Partnership 2012 and commander of the San Diego-based Destroyer Squadron SEVEN; Capt. Jonathan Olmsted, of the Military Sealift Command and Mercy's civil service master; and, Capt. Timothy Hinman, commander of the medical treatment facility, which is responsible for the hospital and providing care aboard Mercy and on shore.

For more information about the PP12 mission, please visit the Pacific Partnership Blog or engage with Pacific Partnership on Facebook and Twitter. For photos, see the PP12 collection on Flickr.