Sailors aboard USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) man the rails as the hospital ship returns to San Diego, Sept. 30. (U.S. Navy/PO2 Lindsey E. Skelton)

SAN DIEGO - Hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) returned to Naval Base San Diego Sept. 30 after a five-month deployment to Southeast Asia in support of Pacific Partnership 2016.

Mercy served as the command platform for the mission, and returns to San Diego with more than 600 Sailors, Marines, Soldiers and civilian mariners after mission stops in Timor Leste, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Throughout the mission Pacific Partnership personnel worked alongside their counterparts in each country to share knowledge and best practices in disaster response preparedness through subject matter expert exchanges, workshops and exercises in humanitarian assistance disaster relief, medical, civil-engineering, and Women, Peace and Security.

“Pacific Partnership was a resounding success," said Medical Treatment Facility Mercy Commanding Officer, Capt. Peter Roberts. "At our peak, Medical Treatment Facility Mercy had over 800 people working in the medical line of effort. They each brought their own special talents and a great deal of commitment to the mission. Much was asked of them and they really delivered over the last five months. Our focus on capacity building will have long lasting positive effects on those countries and our collective ability to work together and respond to crises of many types.”

Chief Petty Officer Claudette Arenas, from Las Vegas, stationed at Naval Medical Center San Diego, grew up in Manila, Philippines and was reminded of her childhood when Mercy visited the Philippines.

“I [remember] how it was when we’d have visitors and how exciting it was,” said Arenas. For her, returning to the Philippines on Mercy was very meaningful. Arenas currently works in Mercy’s directorate of nursing services, primarily dealing with patient care, but because she was raised in the Philippines she worked as a translator during the Philippines mission stop. “Getting the opportunity to go on this mission and help in a different way was incredible. The kids were so excited we were there playing with them. It’s this part of the Navy that I really enjoy.”

U.S. Navy Seabees worked alongside partner nation engineers in each country to build and renovate schools, restrooms and community centers that also serve as emergency shelters.

“You never know what might happen, and now [local populations] have a place to go to [in case of disaster],” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Derek Drummond from Waldorf, Maryland, attached to Amphibious Construction Battalion 1 in Coronado, California. “I think it’s important to build these types of relationships and get a chance to see these environments, meet these people and get an opportunity to build relationships with people half way across the world. Just being around them helps brighten up your day and makes you want to work even harder, get the job done and make sure the job’s done correctly,” said Drummond.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Arthur Tayag, from San Jose, California, a Sailor stationed at Naval Medical Center San Diego, volunteered for community relation events throughout the mission, giving him the opportunity to interact one-on-one with individuals in each country.

“It was great being able to help. Physically seeing relationships being built with people half-way across the world was amazing,” said Tayag. “The impact we had on those countries and the impact they made on us on an individual level was something I’ll never forget. Being assigned to this mission had an impact on me personally and I’m grateful I was a part of it.”

Petty Officer 1st Class Allan Claros, from San Diego, attached to Destroyer Squadron 23, was responsible for coordinating personnel movements, sometimes up to 500 people daily, to-and-from the ship during mission stops. He will retire from the Navy in January, making Pacific Partnership 2016 his last deployment.

“This was a great mission to be a part of,” said Claros. “It was self-rewarding; I was able to end my career with a feeling that I was able to give back to the world outside of the U.S.”

Five months and five mission stops later, Pacific Partnership personnel are eager to return to their friends and family after playing a vital role in improving disaster response preparedness in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

“I’m really looking forward to spending time with my family,” said Tayag. “My wife just gave birth to our second daughter, Isabella, on Sept. 8, so I can’t wait to see her beautiful face for the first time. I’m not the type of person to cry, but I have a feeling once I see them pier side it might happen.”

Pacific Partnership 2016 marked the 11th year of the annual disaster response preparedness mission and also included a mission stop in Palau by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force's JS Shimokita (LST 4002).

Embarked aboard Mercy throughout the mission were military and civilian personnel from Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore and the U.S. Personnel embarked aboard Mercy for the mission will now return to their home commands and Mercy will begin a post-deployment maintenance period.

“Whether they were on mission or interacting with our hosts while on liberty our crew represented the very best the U.S. has to offer,” said Roberts. “I am incredibly proud of the job every one of them did and know they will enjoy being home and spending time with their families and friends; it is well deserved.”