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CAMP ZAMA, Japan — Capt. Donald Dais has a 15-month Iraq deployment on his Army resume, but he says even that doesn’t compare to some of the primitive locales he encountered this summer during Pacific Partnership 2008.

The environmental science officer was among 1,000 people aboard USNS Mercy, the hospital ship that carried out the humanitarian outreach mission in the Philippines, Vietnam, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea and the Federated States of Micronesia.

During the four-month effort — which began in May — the U.S. military, nongovernmental organizations and partner-nation representatives delivered medical, dental, engineering and veterinarian assistance to about 25,000 patients across Southeast Asia.

"They were sorely lacking in a lot of places," said Dais, 42, chief of industrial hygiene at the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine-Pacific on Camp Zama. "It was pretty squalid conditions the people were living in. We wanted to expose them to how we do different programs — inspections and things like that."

He said three other soldiers based in mainland Japan or Okinawa also took part in Pacific Partnership: Capt. Robert Moore, an entomologist assigned to USACHPPM-PAC at Zama; Army Capt. Ashleigh Fann, a veterinarian on Okinawa; and Staff Sgt. Francesca Ross, a veterinary technician from Yokota Air Base.

The group left May 20 and returned earlier this month.

Dais led small teams on 12-day ventures that were responsible for tasks such as food assessment, garbage surveys and water-quality analysis. He estimates they processed about 100 water samples in each country, checking for metallic substances, E. coli and other bacteria.

"Some countries didn’t have bottled water," he said. "Water was a big issue. We determined whether it had the physical qualities to be potable."

Trash-collection points within the communities also posed risks for disease transmission, according to Dais. Officials found cases of malaria, tuberculosis, upper respiratory illness, diarrhea and sexually-transmitted diseases in all five countries.

Moore’s duties included trapping and identifying mosquitoes linked to the spread of dengue virus, lymphatic filariasis and malaria. Pesticides were sprayed in many areas to control populations.

U.S. specialists also engaged in expert exchanges, educational programs and biomedical repair with local health departments.

The deployment wasn’t without potential dangers to U.S. servicemembers, according to Dais. One of the Mercy’s helicopters got shot at on the way back from Cotabato Regional Hospital on Mindanao Island in the southern Philippines. He wasn’t on board at the time but said it damaged a tail rotor.

He said troops received hazardous duty pay in the Philippines and Timor-Leste. Violence was a concern in Papua New Guinea, where crime is high and rebel-type groups occasionally battle the government.

Humanitarian teams were escorted by security forces to and from every work site.

"A lot of little factions in the different countries were armed, but we didn’t see too much of that. We were able to do our jobs," Dais said. "The people were warm and friendly. They were receptive of us helping them.

"For the most part, the places we visited were very primitive. But we saw large cities in Vietnam and the Philippines."

He said American servicemembers swapped gifts with villagers and valued the chance to build friendships.

"It was very rewarding to be able to help those people," Dais said, "and they really needed it."


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