The Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) departs Naval Base San Diego en route to the Western Pacific and this year's Pacific Partnership mission. (U.S. Navy/MC3 Christopher Veloicaza)

PACIFIC OCEAN - USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), a hospital ship operated by Military Sealift Command, departed San Diego May 11 for Pacific Partnership 2016, an annual maritime operation designed to improve disaster response preparedness while enhancing partnerships with participating nations in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

Pacific Partnership, in its 11th year, is the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the region, and was born out of the military-led response to the tsunami that struck parts of Southeast Asia in December 2004.

This year's mission is led by Commodore, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 23, embarked on Mercy, along with more than 600 military and civilian personnel from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, Singapore, Republic of Korea and Japan.

Indonesia, Timor Leste, Malaysia, the Republic of the Philippines, and Vietnam are slated to host Mercy during PP16 and participate in subject-matter expert and civil-military exchanges, emphasizing the importance of cooperation on a global scale in preparing for and responding to disasters. Japan will also lead a mission to Palau.

“It is a privilege and honor to be the Pacific Partnership mission commander. As in previous years, it attracts a very talented and dynamic group of professionals who will not only share their knowledge with our partners, but learn a great deal from the partner nations we are visiting,” said Capt. Tom Williams, commodore, DESRON 23. “Pacific Partnership’s enduring value is in building professional and personal relationships in times of calm to be better prepared for crisis, so when disaster strikes we have a mutual understanding of how to work together to achieve common goals.”

Mercy will also be providing humanitarian relief and training as medical, dental, civil-engineering, and veterinary teams partner with each host nation in conducting civic-action projects, community health exchanges, medical symposiums, and humanitarian and disaster relief (HA/DR) drills.

“This being the 11th year of Pacific Partnership we have the benefit of looking back at all previous missions, especially last year’s Pacific Partnership 2015, and build upon our formula, using that information to tailor what we plan to provide in each host nation based on their specific needs and capabilities,” said Capt. Melanie Merrick, commanding officer of Medical Treatment Facility USNS Mercy. “I’m looking forward to the great work we will do on this mission, and to continue to learn from our partners.”

Engagements between Pacific Partnership participants and host nations are intended to improve capacity, enhance regional partnerships, and increase multilateral cooperation for HA/DR preparedness.