JS Shimokita (LST 4002) steams alongside USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) while transiting to Vietnam in July. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Brittney Vella)

PACIFIC OCEAN - The 11th annual Pacific Partnership mission departed the Western Pacific recently after completing mission stops throughout Southeast Asia.

The annual multilateral, multiservice mission saw partner nation counterparts working alongside one another in six countries to improve disaster response preparedness and enhance relationships in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multilateral disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. The 2016 mission was led by Commander, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 23, embarked aboard hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19).

Approximately 1,200 military and civilian personnel from Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States participated for the duration or parts of the four-month long mission.

Pacific Partnership 2016, visited Dili, Timor Leste; Legazpi, Philippines; Da Nang, Vietnam; Kuantan, Malaysia; and Padang, Indonesia. Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces embarked aboard JS Shimokita (LST 4002) led a mission stop to Koror, Palau. Multinational humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), medical, and civil-engineering teams partnered with their counterparts in each country to conduct live search and rescue field training exercises, subject matter expert exchanges, cooperative health engagements and community relations events.

The collaborative efforts between Pacific Partnership teams and their counterparts in each country improved collective capacity and multilateral cooperation to respond to a disaster and enhance regional partnerships at all levels.

"The men and women of Pacific Partnership made significant advances to the mission through their collaboration with host nations and our civilian and military partners," said Rear Adm. Don Gabrielson, commander, Task Force 73. "Their hard work deepened partnerships and enhanced readiness in search and rescue and humanitarian and disaster response preparedness, preparing us to work together even more closely in the future."

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. The mission has evolved over the years from the provision of direct care to collective capacity building, and Pacific Partnership 2016 focused primarily on knowledge exchange with the intent of sharing knowledge and skills that last long after the mission is over; increasing resiliency and building sustained relationships.

Pacific Partnership 2016 was also different from previous missions, with several other distinctions, to include:

  • A multinational command-and-control structure for disaster relief, which included a deputy mission commander from the Royal Australian Navy and a mission chief of staff from the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
  • The visit by Mercy to Vietnam saw improved U.S. and Vietnamese military cooperation during a live search and rescue exercise on the Han River in Da Nang which also included Vietnam People’s Navy ship Khanh Hoa (K-123) and crew members from JS Shimokita (LST 4002). Pacific Partnership underscores the deepening relationship between the United States, partner nations and Vietnam.
  • Pacific Partnership 2016 capitalized on the Women Peace and Security program, an international initiative designed to empower women, and demonstrate the importance of including them in the planning and implementation of disaster preparedness and relief efforts. The Pacific Partnership 2016 Women, Peace and Security team hosted seminars and workshops as well as discussions during HADR symposiums.
  • This year’s mission visited Malaysia for the first time, although Malaysia has contributed forces to Pacific Partnership since it began in 2006.

“Our partner nations in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region have firsthand experience dealing with natural disaster, and our goal on this mission was to learn from that experience and also to share some of our lessons learned in disaster response,” said Capt. Tom Williams, mission commander, Pacific Partnership 2016. “Throughout the mission we all learned from each other and continued to strengthen professional and personal relationships. I am very proud to have been part of Pacific Partnership 2016.”

Planning for Pacific Partnership 2017 is ongoing, with a sustained focused on disaster preparedness with partner nations in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.

Cmdr. Dennis Spence, a nurse anesthetist, plays with Timorese children at Guido Valadares National Hospital in June. (U.S. Navy/MC2 Hank Gettys)
Following a hard day of work renovating a kindergarten in August, U.S. military and Malaysian Army personnel prepare to play a game of soccer. (RAAF/CPL David Cotton)