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Pacific Partnership Departs Papua New Guinea after Helping Thousands

Navy News Service

Story Number: NNS110602-01
6/2/2011

By MC1 (SW/AW) R. David Valdez, Pacific Partnership 2011 Public Affairs

LAE, Papua New Guinea (NNS) -- After 13 days of working with local medical, dental and engineering professionals in Papua New Guinea, serving close to 11,000 people, Pacific Partnership 2011 concluded its mission May 31 and got underway aboard amphibious transport dock ship USS Cleveland (LPD 7).

When USS Cleveland arrived, the Pacific Partnership 2011 mission commander was greeted with loud chants and leaping dances designed to demonstrate the strength of the community's warriors. However, when it was time to depart, the people of Papua New Guinea sang songs, expressed their gratitude in dance, and provided tokens of appreciation to the multinational crew that came to their shores.

In addition to delivering medical care to 11,000 Papua New Guineans, the Pacific Partnership team completed three main engineering projects, treated 124 animals, delivered 45 pallets of donated goods, and finished 10 community service projects conducted in and around Lae.

"The Papua New Guinea mission was designed to provide as much basic health care as possible," said Cmdr. Michael Smith, director of medical operations for Pacific Partnership. "We worked with the Papua New Guineans to engage in meaningful, on-the-job, subject- matter-expert exchanges (SMEEs) that are sustainable after we depart."

Medical personnel working with Pacific Partnership routinely treated over 1,000 patients in a given day. The team dispensed over 9,000 prescriptions and provided people with over 6,000 pairs of glasses.

"On the whole, we were successful," Smith said. "We have a very good group. All of the countries participating in the mission, from the U.S. and Australia to Spain and France, gelled together very well and achieved the peak of efficiency."

Smith further explained how the culture of interoperability contributed to the success of the medical mission. While the majority of the participants are military, regardless of what nation they come from, the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working as a part of the Pacific Partnership team are just as important as their military counterparts.

"Project Hope, World Vets and the other NGOs are a great asset, and they bring something different to the table," Smith continued. "They don't accept anything as impossible."

Smith also spoke to the expertise of the Australian Defence Force, which has been a part of the Pacific Partnership 2011 mission since the planning stages of the deployment.

"The Australians know this area," he said. "They know the diseases, the people, and the cultures. They have a lot of enthusiasm for this mission. I think it's kind of like our Army counterparts here. They are a little outside of their comfort zone, but they end up thriving in an unfamiliar environment like a U.S. Navy ship."

While the Pacific Partnership medical, dental and veterinary team worked together in a variety of locations, the engineering team, made up of U.S. Navy Seabees and Australian Sappers, worked with Papua New Guinean engineers.

"Our multi-national team built three classroom structures, two six-stall toilet facilities and installed roofs on two schools," said Lt. Michael Sardone, officer in charge of civil engineering for Pacific Partnership 2011. "Now the local children will have no need to miss hours of school because they have to go home to use the restroom. Now they can study without the need to feel embarrassed about going to the bathroom outside. Here, too, a small change – building a bathroom – will impact a generation of school children."

The impact of Pacific Partnership may not be a new experience for Papua New Guinea, but there is always a warm welcome for the joint, multinational crew and their NGO partners.

"Papua New Guinea is a welcomed and regular stop for the Pacific Partnership mission," said Capt. Jesse Wilson, Pacific Partnership 2011 mission commander and Commander, Destroyer 23. "We see our differences in culture and training as something to be celebrated, as anyone would appreciate the unique qualities of a friend. We are also seeing that the bond between us is growing stronger every time we come to these shores."

Since the first mission in 2006, Pacific Partnership has visited 15 countries, treated more than 230,000 patients and built over 150 engineering projects in 15 countries. During this year's mission, the Pacific Partnership team has treated more than 21,000 patients, participated in thousands of contact hours of formal SMEEs, and built classrooms and water catchment systems in all three of its mission ports.

Pacific Partnership is an annual humanitarian assistance mission sponsored by U.S. Pacific Fleet. This year, Pacific Partnership has completed its mission in Tonga, Vanuatu, and Papua New Guinea and will continue on to Timor-Leste and the Federated States of Micronesia.



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