ESPIRITU SANTO, Vanuatu (NNS) -- The Pacific Partnership 2011 team departed Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu, aboard amphibious transport dock ship USS Cleveland (LPD 7) May 9 after 10 days of working side-by-side with the people of Vanuatu, marking the first time a U.S. Navy vessel has sailed to Vanuatu for a mission since World War II.
Joined by HMNZS Canterbury (L 421), HMAS Betano (L 133) and HMAS Balikpapan (L 126), Cleveland arrived in ni-Vanuatu (as they call themselves) waters with civilian volunteers and military representatives from five of the U.S. service branches, as well as military personnel from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and France.
The joint, multinational team joined the ni-Vanuatu, engaging in medical, dental, engineering and veterinary civic action programs (MEDCAP, DENCAP, ENCAP, and VETCAP). They also participated in subject matter expert exchanges (SMEEs), covering topics like nursing, veterinary medicine, and even firefighting.
"It has been a great opportunity to work with the people of Vanuatu," said Capt. Jesse Wilson, Pacific Partnership 2011 mission commander and commander, Destroyer Squadron 23. "I am honored that we had the opportunity to renew and enhance our ties with a long time supporter of the United States, and I am humbled to command the Navy's first mission here since World War II and the first ever Pacific Partnership mission to Vanuatu."
Wilson initiated another first on Pacific Partnership's mission in Vanuatu. He is the first mission commander to shift his pennant and command to a New Zealand vessel, amphibious support ship logistics HMNZS Canterbury (L 421)
The New Zealand Defence Force also brought a surgical team to work with the ni-Vanuatu.
While the mission objectives in an odd-numbered year don't include surgery, the NZDF's surgical team, along with each of the partner nations' and ni-Vanuatu medical professionals proved to be instrumental in saving the life of an injured tourist.
"The entire team, from medics to doctors, saved this patient's life," said Cmdr. Steven Gabele, the medical contingent's officer in charge. "They absolutely proved the value of interoperability. New Zealand surgeons stabilized the patient in a ni-Vanuatu hospital, an American doctor kept the patient stable while flying to the hospital in a French New Caledonian helicopter off of Canterbury with an Australian general practitioner coordinating all of the resources."
Pacific Partnership also began work on the ENCAP part of the mission weeks before Cleveland arrived.
"The Seabees worked extremely well with the Vanuatu Mobile Force and the local apprentices," said Lt. Wesley Howard, officer in charge of the advance echelon Construction Battalion 133 detachment. "With all of us working together, we were able to build water catchments, classrooms, and new bathrooms for three of the schools here on Santo. We were doing it for the kids."
Humanitarian aid/disaster relief environments may very well bring out the best in people during the worst situations. Even when they work long hours healing the sick and injured, rebuilding what has become broken, and giving pets and livestock the care they need, the men and women of Pacific Partnership still go out to do a little more.
"The community service projects were very rewarding here in Vanuatu," said Lt. Philip Ridley, Pacific Partnership 2011 chaplain. "We had an opportunity to provide hand-pedaled bicycles to children at a special needs school, share music and food, and engage with the people in a very personal way. I think all of our lives have changed."
In 10 days, the Pacific Partnership team engaged local leaders, treated 6,068 medical patients, including 25 surgeries by the NZDF surgical team, 676 dental patients, cared for 118 animals, completed four engineering projects, including school buildings, bathrooms and a water catchment system, and engaged in 13 community service projects.
The team participated in 23 different SMEEs, including preventive medicine, veterinary medicine, primary care medicine, dental care and basic damage control. More than 1,600 host nationals came to these events where they and representatives from the partner nations spent over 3,100 contact hours together, trading methods and ideas.
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 Vanuatu, and will continue on to Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and the Federated States of Micronesia.
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