SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Amphibious transport dock ship USS Cleveland (LPD 7) arrived in San Diego, Aug. 4, concluding the ship's final mission prior to its decommissioning.
Cleveland, the third oldest ship in the Fleet behind USS Constitution and nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65), is returning from Pacific Partnership 2011, a humanitarian assistance mission that visited Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, and the Federated States of Micronesia.
"It is absolutely fitting that Cleveland's last ride is Pacific Partnership 2011," said mission commander, Navy Capt. Jesse Wilson, Commander Destroyer Squadron 23. "When the ship deployed for the first time 44 years ago, Cleveland steamed to the Gulf of Tonkin in support of the Vietnam War. On the ship's last deployment, the men and women of the diverse countries, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and all branches of the U.S. military that make up the Pacific Partnership 2011 team have bonded to change many lives for the better in the Pacific region to promote a mission of peace."
Pacific Partnership is an annual U.S. Pacific Fleet initiative that provides medical, dental, veterinary, engineering and agricultural civic action programs throughout Southeast Asia and the South Pacific to promote interoperability between host nations and partner nations.
"Pacific Partnership promotes sustainable improvements in the quality of life for the citizens of host nations while improving the partner nations' collective ability to respond to a natural disaster," Wilson said.
During the course of this year's mission, the medical contingent treated 38,696 patients at medical and dental civic action projects, or MEDCAPs and DENCAPs.
"The support we got from the Cleveland crew was invaluable," said Navy Capt. Steven Gaeble, officer in charge of the partnership's medical contingent. "Our ability to work with the ship's crew and their flexibility was a key contribution to our success."
Optometry services were also popular, as they accounted for nearly 12,000 of the total patients seen at the MEDCAPs.
The DENCAPs treated more than 3,300 patients this year, and the team of dentists, hygienists and technicians from Australia, Canada, France, and the U.S. had the opportunity to work with local dental professionals and get more people treated than the host nations' infrastructures would normally allow.
"Every morning, the ship's line handlers and engineers would have to muster up before we did to make sure the LCU (landing craft utility) went ashore on time," said Lt. Cmdr Priya Chandra, Royal Australian Navy public affairs officer. "Without their dedication and professionalism, getting our services ashore would have been challenging."
Those services also included treatment for more than 800 animals and 22 engineering projects, all of which were done by host nation and partner nation participants.
The PP11 team, which included the crew of the Cleveland, also delivered 257 pallets of donated materials like toys, crutches, wheelchairs, toiletries, and school supplies at 58 community service projects throughout the course of the mission.
"Cleveland Sailors were always up in front to volunteer for community service projects," said Lt. Phillip Ridley, PP11 chaplain. "While we always had joint and multinational teams, all of the jerseys said USS Cleveland. That left an imprint on the people in every country we visited."
During the past six years, Pacific Partnership has provided medical, dental, educational, and preventive medicine services to more than 250,000 people and completed more than 150 engineering projects in 15 countries.
"The work the Cleveland team has done in support of this mission is nothing short of incredible," said Capt. S. Robert Roth, Cleveland's commanding officer. "The crew has a very big job ahead of them in decommissioning the ship, but if Pacific Partnership is any indication, they're going to do a great job."
Cleveland will be decommissioned in late September this year.
For more news from Navy Public Affairs Support Element West, visit www.navy.mil/local/pacensandiego/.