RABAUL, Papua New Guinea - An opening ceremony in support of Pacific Partnership 2010 was held at the Malaguna Technical High School Sept. 3, kicking off the final mission port visit for the five-month long deployment that has visited six host nations since deploying May 1.

“This opening ceremony is a bittersweet moment for many of us, as it signifies that the important mission we’ve been working on for over a year is now drawing to a close. At the same time, it is incredibly exciting to be here in Papua New Guinea, aboard an Australian ship, with new partners and a great visit ahead of us,” said Pacific Partnership 2010 Mission Commander, Capt. Lisa M. Franchetti. “The level of enthusiasm and dedication is high – something we’ve seen at every stage of Pacific Partnership – and the folks who came here with me from USNS Mercy, our Australian Defence Force and Papua New Guinea Defence Force partners, and the NGOs that have joined us here in Rabaul are eager and ready to get started in PNG.”

In the presence of dignitaries and high-ranking military officials from Papua New Guinea, Australia and the U.S., attendees were treated to a choir and a traditional dance performance by Malaguna Primary School students. The ceremony also provided the opportunity to describe the humanitarian and civic assistance projects planned for the visit.

While in the province of East New Britain, the eight-day visit will provide medical/dental civic action programs (MED/DENCAP) – essentially primary health care clinics - at Malaguna Technical High School in Rabaul and St. Mary’s Vunapope Secondary School in Kokopo. Immunizations against measles will be administered for the first time during the mission. The MED/DENCAPs are also enhanced by the presence of Population Services International, an NGO that will be conducting public health education on site and in the local area. In addition, mass drug administrations, or the administration of a specific medication to a targeted population, will be conducted in conjunction with Saint John’s Ambulance, another NGO, on the Duke of York Islands. Finally, at Nonga General Hospital, a surgeon from SEE International will perform cataract surgery. All these efforts are conducted at the request of the PNG Department of Health.

The visit also features engineering civic action programs (ENCAPS) which include renovating the Laboratory Building at Malaguna Technical High School, refurbishing a restroom facility and installing a water tower at the Vunamami Farmer’s Training Center, and renovating the Vudal University Clinic. In addition, numerous community service projects and band engagements will occur throughout the visit.

The U.S. Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Teddy Taylor, was also in attendance and will have the opportunity to witness the mission first-hand as he is making a special visit to Rabaul to coincide with the mission.

“I know Pacific Partnership 2010 will leave a deep and lasting positive impact on these remote regions of Papua New Guinea,” said Taylor. “We’ve all been anticipating the arrival of Pacific Partnership for some time now, and after witnessing the warm embrace by the locals, I could not be any more pleased to know the locals will be receiving medical, dental, immunization services, and engineering refurbishments. It’s our U.S. commitment at its best and we are excited to see Pacific Partnership lead this effort.”

Rabaul is no stranger to natural disasters as it once was the provincial capital until the devastation it experienced due to eruption of the Tavurvur and Vulcan Volcanoes in 1994. According to the Commander of the PNGDF, Brig. Gen. Francis Agwi, the people of East New Britain expect a natural disaster to occur from time to time, whether it may come in the form of a volcanic eruption or tsunami, and missions such as Pacific Partnership help build the relationships that may one day be called upon.

“Pacific Partnership enables us to come together and learn from one another and be able to work together as a team,” said Agwi. “I’m very impressed with the mission and there is significant positive talk in Rabaul already.”

The contingent of Papua New Guinea Defence Force, Australian Defence Force and U.S. Navy personnel, previously aboard USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), is embarked aboard HMAS Tobruk (L50), which is now hosting the command element of the mission. The ship arrived in Rabaul yesterday.

Tobruk will be joined in Rabaul by the USS Vandegrift (FFG 48), whose Sailors will also be participating in the mission. During Pacific Partnership 2010’s other efforts, Mercy visited Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Timor-Leste. The USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) visited Palau.

Pacific Partnership 2010 is the fifth in a series of annual U.S. Pacific Fleet humanitarian and civic assistance endeavors aimed at strengthening regional partnerships among host nations, partner nations, U.S. government organizations, and international humanitarian and relief organizations.