Hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) sits anchored off the coast of Timor-Leste during its first mission stop of Pacific Partnership 2016. (U.S. Navy/MC1 Elizabeth Merriam)

DILI, Timor-Leste - Pacific Partnership 2016 departed Timor-Leste June 21, after completing two weeks of subject matter expert exchanges (SMEE) in civil-military disaster response preparedness, cooperative health engagements (CHE) and engineering projects.

“At every level we’ve continued to build upon the partnerships we began ten years ago when Pacific Partnership first visited Timor-Leste," said Capt. Tom Williams, Pacific Partnership 2016 mission commander. "We’ve forged new relationships, increased the scope of our mission with our Timor-Leste partners, and increased our collective capacity to respond to disaster in the region. The teamwork I’ve seen in Timor-Leste gives me great confidence that as we leave here we are all better prepared to respond when disaster strikes.”

A key event of this mission stop was the five-day humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) symposium, which was co-hosted by the Timor-Leste defense force Falantil-Forca Defeza Timor Leste (F-FDTL) and Pacific Partnership. Civilians and military personnel from partner nations and humanitarian organizations participated in discussions, workshops and a tabletop exercise to focus on civil-military coordination to support a collaborative, rapid response to natural disasters in Timor-Leste. The symposium also integrated discussions of women’s role in disaster response planning and execution.

Engineering projects conducted by Timorese soldiers, U.S. Navy Seabees, U.S. Marines and Australian engineers, included the renovation of Maneluana Primary School and Aimutin School, which also serve as civilian shelters during disasters.

Medical teams conducted various engagements in Timor-Leste and aboard Mercy, including SMEEs and CHEs for surgery, dentistry, antenatal and postnatal care, women’s health, blood bank administration, biomedical repair, children’s health, nutrition, industrial hygiene infection control and veterinary services.

“A lot of us had not been to Timor-Leste before, so we didn’t know as a team what to expect, but we have had a lot of opportunity to share our expertise and they have had an opportunity to share their expertise,” said Lt. Cmdr. Pete Bradford, director for surgical and medical services aboard Mercy. “It has been satisfying because we are definitely in our element when we are in the operating room and all of our team comes together.”

Community service events were also held throughout Dili, bringing the local people and children together with Pacific Partnership 2016 personnel through sporting events and a cultural exposition. U.S. Pacific Fleet band members performed at several venues, including a live broadcast of Televizaun Timor Leste (TVTL), reaching up to 600,000 viewers.

According to Yeoman 2nd Class Ashli Defraties, an administrative assistant aboard Mercy, the community service events provided an additional opportunity for Pacific Partnership personnel to engage with the local community, “We are here to work, but we also are here to have a good time with the Timorese people.”

After Timor-Leste, Mercy will conduct mission stops in 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. The joint mission includes military and civilian personnel from Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“[This mission stop] has given us a great opportunity to provide the support we are capable of providing, and I feel humbled by the wonderful acceptance of the community and the willingness of the citizens of Timor-Leste to work with us,” said Capt. Mike Spruce, Royal Australian Navy Reserve, Pacific Partnership 2016 deputy mission commander. “The Pacific Partnership team as a whole has melded together to provide an extraordinary example of friendship and work ethic alongside their Timorese counterparts.”