VAVA'U, Tonga (NNS) -- The Pacific Partnership 2011 team departed Vava'u, Tonga, aboard amphibious transport dock ship USS Cleveland (LPD 7) April 23, after 11 days of working side-by-side with the people of Tonga.
Joined by USCGC Jarvis (WHEC 725) and HMNZS Canterbury (L 421), Cleveland arrived to Tonga equipped with civilian volunteers and military representatives from all of the U.S. services, as well as military personnel from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Singapore.
The diverse crew arrived to Tonga to provide aid, develop their humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HA/DR) skills, and to learn from the Tongans.
In 11 days, the multinational and multi-service Pacific Partnership team engaged local leaders, treated 3,806 patients, 819 of which were children, cared for 163 animals, completed seven engineering projects, including school buildings, bathrooms and a water catchment system, and engaged in several community service projects.
By working across services, nations and cultures, the Pacific Partnership team was able to enhance their ability to work as a unified team. They also helped the Tongans develop sustainable improvements in their quality of life and quality of service.
"We are very grateful to the people of Tonga for providing us an opportunity to improve our interoperability in HA/DR," said Capt. Jesse Wilson, Pacific Partnership 2011 mission commander and commander, Destroyer Squadron 23. "Recent events in the region such as the Queensland floods in Australia, the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand, and the earthquake and tsunami that impacted Japan, demonstrate the importance of multi-national humanitarian relief missions like Pacific Partnership."
Tonga is no stranger to natural disasters. In 2009, the Tongan island Niuatoputapu, was hit by a tsunami that killed 10 people and left hundreds of people injured, homeless or in need of major repairs to their homes.
This year, military personnel and civilian volunteers were provided an opportunity to work with the people of Tonga, engage in dialogue and offer assistance through medical, dental, veterinary and engineering projects. The team also hosted a HA/DR conference that was attended by local officials and community leaders.
"In accordance with the Maritime Strategy we have to be responsive to the HA/DR mission, and that means working in a variety of conditions, planning for contingencies, improvising where we must, listening to the local subject matter experts, and communicating in a joint environment," said Cmdr. Steven Gabele. "The collaborative effort between countries and across services, even in and out of the military, was absolutely crucial to our level of success here in Tonga."
From tooth extractions to neutering pets, the practitioners had an opportunity to engage with Tongans, learn from them and provide assistance.
"I'm really glad I had an opportunity to come do this," said Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Esther Sayers. "Working at the MEDCAP (Medical Civic Action Program) let me meet these wonderful people, treat their kids, and get a real sense that I'm doing some good out in the world."
In any HA/DR environment, there are multiple issues responders and survivors must face. While the hurt and injured must receive care for their wounds and illnesses, there is also a need to rebuild. Public resources including schools, government offices, and roads also experience damage from natural and man-made disasters.
"When we respond to a HA/DR crisis situation we can bring people, equipment and tools to help support the people who are rebuilding their homes, but we do have to rely on the local population for an awareness of their engineering needs, supplies, and most importantly, how to adjust our methods to the environment," said Lt. Michael Sardone, Pacific Partnership 2011 engineering services officer-in-charge. "By listening to the local population, we can find out what they need, and we can build things that can stand up to the natural disasters we can't predict."
Sardone pointed out the value of engaging with other services and nations when working with the engineering civic action program.
"Having partner and host nation engineers working alongside us was really valuable," he said. "First, having the additional personnel gave us the flexibility to complete larger and more complex projects. Second, working together gave us time to learn different approaches to completing these projects; an invaluable lesson for future engineering activities. Finally, host nation personnel greatly increased our success by knowing exactly what the local community needed. Without their support and guidance we would have not accomplished our mission."
The Pacific Partnership team also helps local residents by participating in community service projects.
"Community service projects are a key part of any mission like Pacific Partnership," said Lt. Philip Ridley, Pacific Partnership 2011 chaplain. "The Navy's forward presence means that every port we pull into is like our community. We give a real meaning to the idea that we are citizens of the world as well as the United States, and I think we showed the people of Tonga that being 'a global force for good' isn't something we just like to say about ourselves; it's something we try to do everywhere we go."
"When I spoke with the Honorable Fotu, a revered chief in Vava'u, he told me that the island of Vava'u has a nickname of Fata Fata Mana, which means 'Warm Heart Island,'" Wilson said. "The people living here proved to me that they deserve that honor. I am truly grateful for this opportunity."
Pacific Partnership is an annual humanitarian assistance mission sponsored by U.S. Pacific Fleet. This year, Pacific Partnership has completed its mission in Tonga, and will continue in Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and the Federated States of Micronesia.
For more news from Pacific Partnership, visit www.cpf.navy.mil/pp11, www.facebook.com/pacificpartnership, or http://twitter.com/#!/PacificPartner.
For more news from http://www.navy.mil/local/pacificpartnership/.