The president of the Republic of Kiribati Anote Tong and First Lady Madam Tong arrive at the misison's opening ceremony to celebrate the arrival of USNS Millinocket (JHSV 3). (U.S. Navy/MC1 Carla Burdt)

REPUBLIC OF KIRIBATI - The Joint High Speed Vessel USNS Millinocket (JHSV 3) pulled into the Independent Republic of Kiribati June 2, the first mission visit of Pacific Partnership 2015.

The Kiribati mission kicked off with an opening ceremony on the ship’s flight deck with many honored guests including the President of the Independent Republic of Kiribati, His Excellency Anote Tong.

In his remarks to honored guests from Kiribati, Capt. James Meyer, commodore, Task Force Forager, emphasized that PP15 teams will work in partnership with the host nation for medical training, dental clinics, engineering projects and band engagements.

“As a Seabee and engineer myself, I am excited for our engineering engagements composed of Kiribati participants, U.S. military engineers, as well as partner nation engineers, all working together to provide infrastructure assistance and share our collective expertise,” said Meyer. “Our focus will be on education structures, health facilities, and community infrastructure.”

President Tong, the guest of honor, spoke of the long relationship the U.S. and Kiribati has shared.

“Over the years we have shared a very strong relationship,” said Tong. “A relationship that continues today and continues to be reinforced as time goes by.”

He also spoke of 2013, the last time that Pacific Partnership worked with the nation.

“Assistance that the last Pacific Partnership team rendered to Kiribati has been structured around areas that have touched the lives of our community – areas of education and health,” said Tong. “We witnessed, in a couple of days, the building of Friendship Bridge. While not a health or education project, it did contribute to the welfare of societies and it symbolizes the linkage, not only between Kiribati and Pacific Partnership, but also linked a remote, isolated village.”

Meyer closed with a traditional Kiribati proverb wishing everyone a blessing of health, peace and prosperity - “Te Mauri Te Raoi Ao Te Tabomoa.”

Millinocket and embarked Task Force Forager, led by an expeditionary command element from the Navy’s 30th Naval Construction Regiment (30 NCR) from Port Hueneme, California, are currently serving as the secondary platform for Pacific Partnership 2015. The primary platform for the mission is the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19).

Now in its tenth iteration, Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Asia-Pacific Region. While training for crisis conditions, Pacific Partnership missions have provided medical care to approximately 270,000 patients and veterinary services to more than 38,000 animals. Additionally, the mission has provided critical infrastructure developments to host nations through the completion of more than 180 engineering projects.

Steelworker 3rd Class Johnathon Walsh, left, assists a local construction worker in removing a door as part of a Pacific Partnership construction project to remodel local schools in Kiribati. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. James Gulliver)
USNS Millinocket (JHSV 3) operates in the Pacific May 28 after departing Hawaii for Pacific Partnership. (U.S. Navy/MC3 William McCann)