SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy returned to San Diego Sept. 25 after completing Pacific Partnership, a four-month humanitarian, civic assistance and theater security cooperation mission, conducted with countries from the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia.
Throughout the 2008 Pacific Partnership mission, Mercy served as an enabling platform for military and nongovernmental organizations to coordinate and carry out relationship-building work in the Republic of the Philippines, Vietnam, the Federated States of Micronesia, Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea.
"[We] worked hand-in-hand because the people in the areas where we are doing these procedures usually don't have access to either of these kinds of services," said Pheonix native Cdr. Rosemarie Tan, a physician aboard Mercy. "We try our best to support these people, who typically can't afford treatment otherwise."
During this year's mission more than 90,000 patients were treated by the medical teams from Mercy. Among those treated were more than 14,000 dental patients and more than 1,300 surgery patients in various locations throughout the Western Pacific.
"With thousands of people who benefitted from the mission, it's humbling to think that only 67 civilian mariners drove the ship," said Mercy's civil service master, Capt. Robert Wiley. "While Mercy's focus was primarily medical, the mission wouldn't have been possible without the civil service mariners getting the ship were it needed to go."
The civil service mariners embarked for the deployment were responsible for Mercy's navigation, propulsion and engineering services. Because of Mercy's size, she wasn't able to pull pierside in any of the countries, so civil service mariners also operated two 33-foot utility boats that were used to ferry patients and mission personnel between ship and shore.
"The mariners were the first that patients saw and the last when they departed," said Navy Capt. Jim Rice, Mercy's embarked Military Treatment Facility commander. "They left a lasting impression."
In addition to running the ship and transporting patients, Mercy's civil service mariners contributed to Pacific Partnership's community outreach. They assisted Navy Seabees with engineering projects that improved life for people in the host countries. The projects ranged from repairing plumbing, playground equipment and lighting in a local school and health clinic in Vietnam to fixing air conditioning in a hospital in Papua New Guinea.
"Throughout Pacific Partnership, the professionalism of Mercy's civilian mariners and the support of Military Sealift Command were vital to the success of the mission," said Navy Capt. William Kearns, Pacific Partnership mission commander.
The Paficic Partnership mission had a positive effect not only for the local population but also for the multi-agency team embarked aboard Mercy.
"It feels really good because you don't realize how much you're helping them until you're actually out there," said San Antonio, Texas native Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Manuel Mireles. "Once you see the people and all their problems, the impact of what we're doing really hits home."
Mercy's Military Treatment Facility included personnel from public health/preventive medicine; U.S. Navy, U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force medicine; and U.S. Public Health Service. Nongovernmental organizations also embarked to provide medical support throughout the mission.
Mercy is one of two U.S. Navy hospital ships owned and operated by MSC. In 2007, Mercy's sister ship USNS Comfort deployed on a similar four-month humanitarian mission that treated more than 98,000 people in 12 Latin American and Caribbean countries.
MSC operates approximately 110 noncombatant, civilian-crewed ships that strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world, move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces, conduct specialized missions and replenish U.S. Navy ships at sea.
For more news from Military Sealift Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/MSC/.