In this file photo, USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) transits the Pacific Ocean in late May. (U.S. Navy/MCC Christopher E. Tucker)

PACIFIC OCEAN - The hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) arrived in the U.S. 3rd Fleet area of operations Sept. 13 as Pacific Partnership 2015 draws near its close.

Mercy, which departed Naval Base San Diego on May 17 for the beginning of PP15, served as the primary platform for the mission. The secondary platform for the mission was the Joint High Speed Vessel USNS Millinocket (JHSV 3), which wrapped up its mission participation Aug. 24 when it departed Da Nang, Vietnam.

"Pacific Partnership provides a great avenue for increasing maritime stability and security throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region," said Rear Adm. Charlie Williams, commander, Task Force 73. "The tremendous efforts and teamwork from all of our participating partner-nations speaks volumes about our shared commitment to this region and the value of multilateral cooperation and engagement."

Now in its tenth iteration, Pacific Partnership began in response to one of the world’s most catastrophic natural disasters, the December 2004 tsunami that devastated parts of Southeast Asia. Along with other nations, the United States responded to the tragedy, deploying U.S. Navy assets, including the Mercy, which later returned to the region in 2006 for the first Pacific Partnership mission.

This year, Mercy visited Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Vietnam, providing healthcare and surgical procedures, community health engagements, engineering projects and community relations events in coordination with partner and host nations. Millinocket visited Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia, Solomon Islands, the Philippines and Vietnam.

“Pacific Partnership provides humanitarian and civic action programs that strive to improve critical infrastructure, support host nation health, education and service programs, and improve disaster response preparedness, all the while enhancing relations with numerous partners in the region,” said Capt. Christopher Engdahl, the mission commander for PP15.

A Closer Look at Pacific Partnership 2015

The primary objective of Pacific Partnership 2015 was to conduct subject matter expert exchanges. Approximately 1,200 total personnel aboard Mercy, including U.S. military, partner nations and non-governmental organizations, spent more than 20,500 man hours engaged in joint education and didactic exchanges with host nations, who accounted for an additional 33,000 man hours.

In addition, Mercy medical and dental personnel provided direct care to approximately 16,000 patients during the mission.

Medical:

Medical personnel from Mercy, partner nations and non-governmental organizations worked tirelessly to train, educate and exchange ideas with each of the host nations, in addition to providing direct care.

Patients seen at the community health engagements included 2,090 in Fiji, 6,331 in Papua New Guinea, 5,184 in the Philippines and 657 in Vietnam.

The medical team also performed surgical and healthcare procedures both on board Mercy and off the ship in local medical treatment facilities and hospitals. There were 649 surgeries performed aboard the ship.

Operation Smile came aboard Mercy while it was in the Philippines and conducted 144 cleft lip and cleft pallet corrective surgeries for children.

Personnel from several medical specialties including biomedical repair, laboratory, pharmacy, blood bank, mental health and physical therapy engaged in numerous subject matter expert exchanges and helped ensure the host nation’s readiness objectives were met.

Dental:

The dental team, made up of U.S. Navy and Army personnel, partner nations, and a variety of non-governmental organizations such as Project Hope and University of California San Diego, provided dental care to more than 3,800 patients.

The team of 48 dental care providers conducted more than 11,000 procedures including exams, extractions and restorations both on and off the ship.

Engineering:

Approximately 290 military, civilian and host nation engineers worked side-by-side to build new structures and renovate old facilities at the request of each host nation. Engineers embarked on Mercy worked on 10 renovation and new construction projects and also engaged in three subject matter expert exchanges.

The new construction and renovation projects included school buildings, community centers, medical facilities and a disadvantaged youth center.

Preventative medicine:

The preventative medicine team of 12 Soldiers, Sailors and civilians from World Vets worked with local veterinary providers to conduct animal control measures by spaying and neutering pets and stray dogs, cats and horses.

The team conducted 266 surgeries, 749 exams and 672 consults in Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, in addition to participating in subject matter expert exchanges, community health engagements, community outreach programs and conducting vaccination clinics.

Coastal Medicine Initiative drill

One of the culminating events of Pacific Partnership was the Coastal Medicine Initiative drill, which took place in Da Nang, Vietnam on Aug. 27.

The simulated scenario was a tsunami reaching Vietnamese shores, causing severe damage and dozens of casualties. The drill began ashore in Da Nang and then concluded aboard the Mercy. Simulated patients were transported via ambulance then by a Vietnamese Coast Guard boat to the ship where they received further treatment.

The large-scale drill, which included approximately 70 medical personnel from Mercy and an equal number in the Vietnamese medical team, demonstrated the interoperability of the Vietnamese and U.S. medical personnel.

“There are three pillars to good disaster management; cooperation, information sharing and capacity building, which is what we are demonstrating in this drill,” said Cmdr. Lisa Kelty, disaster management director for PP15. “If a disaster were to occur in the United States or in Vietnam, we have the experience of working together and we know what each other’s capabilities are.”

Women, Peace and Security

Another key element of PP15 was Women, Peace and Security. This program is an international initiative designed to not only empower women, but to see that they are included in the planning and implementation of disaster preparedness and relief efforts of their respective countries.

“It’s not just a women’s issue; it’s a community issue and a global issue,” said Royal Australian Navy Lt. Lauren Milburn, Women, Peace and Security advisor for PP15. “It’s an effort for women and men to work together, to make sure that women’s voices are included in peace building and peacemaking efforts in our responses to disaster.”

Pacific Partnership 2015 supporting partners included Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Canada, Timor Leste, Fiji, and France. Non-governmental organizations also participating were Project Hope, Operation Smile, Latter Day Saints Charities, University of California San Diego, University of Hawaii, Project Handclasp, and World Vets.

See photos from Pacific Partnership 2015 in the U.S. Pacific Fleet Flickr stream.