The U.S. Navy will launch its sixth annual humanitarian assistance mission in the Pacific later this month, helping countries in the area prepare for the next natural disaster.
The USS Cleveland was designed to transport Marines and deliver them to a war zone. But for five months starting March 21, the Cleveland will lead Pacific Partnership, the Navy’s annual training and humanitarian assistance mission.
The Cleveland, along with other ships from the U.S., Australian, New Zealand and Japanese navies will visit countries to train local forces in disaster relief. They also will work with local and international relief organizations to make emergency response plans and provide medical care and construction aid to local communities. A helicopter crew from France and teams from Canada, Singapore and Spain also will participate.
The mission will visit mostly small island nations this year -- Tonga, Vanuatu, Timor-Leste, and the Federated States of Micronesia. It will also make a stop in Papua-New Guinea.
"No one can predict the time or the place of any of these natural disasters that may occur in the region. So whether it’s in Tonga or whether it’s in Vanuatu, we need to have a very good feel for, in all the particular countries that we may have to respond to, what does the disaster preparedness structure and organization look like in that country," said Navy Captain Jesse Wilson, the commander of the mission.
Captain Wilson says the ships and their crews, and civilian relief organizations that will work with them, also will help with current projects in the host countries, such as building or renovating clinics, schools and water treatment facilities. The Cleveland is not a hospital ship, but it does have a modern clinic on board, and will dispatch doctors and nurses to treat local people, perform dental checkups and provide eyeglasses.
The captain says even as the Navy is supporting ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting pirates off the coast of Africa and conducting dozens of other security deployments around the world, its leaders still believe it is important to conduct missions like this one.
"There is a spectrum of warfare. There is high-end, which relates to the two wars we are currently fighting, and then there’s humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. We don’t stop doing any of our missions and we don’t stop preparing or training to do any mission that falls within the range of the things we may be tasked to do. So as far as a resource standpoint, our leadership is committed to continue to fund our training and readiness for something that we consider a very important part of our mission," Wilson said.
Pacific Partnership was in part inspired by the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 in order to ensure the United States and other donors are better coordinated with countries in the region to respond to future disasters. The past five missions have served 300,000 patients in 13 countries and participated in 130 engineering projects. Captain Wilson says planning is already under way for another mission next year.