Rear Adm. Charles Williams, commander of Task Force 73, salutes during the Pacific Partnership 2016 opening ceremony at the Timor-Leste Ministry of Defense. (U.S. Navy/MC2 Hank Gettys)

DILI, Timor-Leste - The Chief of Defense Force to Timor-Leste, Major General Lere Anan Timur hosted the Pacific Partnership 2016 opening ceremony June 8.

Hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), anchored off the coast of Dili, brought an international team of military and civilian professionals in disaster relief, engineering and medicine to Timor-Leste for its first mission stop of Pacific Partnership 2016.

Speakers at the event included His Excellence Dr. Rui Maria de Araujo, Prime Minister of Timor Leste, U.S. Ambassador to Timor-Leste Karen Stanton, and Rear Adm. Charles Williams, Commander, Task Force 73.

“Today is a very special day for Timor-Leste and we are honored to host you in our beautiful country,” said His Excellency Araujo. “Today is also particularly momentous because we gather from various countries and nationalities to work hand-in-hand in a multilateral program in identifying and responding to our common challenges in the region, through Pacific Partnership.

“It is imperative that we work together, share our knowledge and skills through a program like this one. Share our hands-on experience and strive to help each other to the best of our ability,” said Araujo.

Also in attendance were ambassadors from Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, Malaysia, and Singapore along with service members and civilians from those nations.

“I’m thrilled to see the many flags flying here. The flags represent the many nations working together in a spirit of international cooperation,” said Ambassador Stanton. “Pacific Partnership and engagements like it in Timor Leste and throughout the region demonstrate our shared determination to foster trust and cooperation and to improve our ability to respond together to disasters and address common threats to stability.”

While in Timor-Leste, Pacific Partnership personnel will work side-by-side with civilian leadership from the Dili community and Timor-Leste Defense Forces in a disaster relief symposium, civil engineering projects, cooperative health engagements, subject matter expert exchanges and community relations projects.

“Pacific Partnership at its core, and by its very name, is about nations working together. This collaboration and teamwork among nations can only occur through persistent presence and sustained relationships,” said Williams. “Now in its 11th year, Pacific Partnership allows us to build those enduring relationships with nations across many years and across the vast area that is the Pacific Ocean, and that, again, is what Pacific Partnership is all about.”

After Timor-Leste, Pacific Partnership will conduct mission stops at the Republic of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. Pacific Partnership 2016 is focused on enhancing relationships and multinational-interoperability through knowledge exchange and cooperative training, ensuring partner nations are prepared to collectively and effectively respond when disaster strikes.