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USNS Mercy set to lead Pacific’s largest disaster-relief preparation mission

Sailors remove the line from the bollard as hospital ship USNS Mercy prepares to depart Naval Base San Diego, May 11, 2016, for Pacific Partnership 2016. Pacific Partnership, now in its 11th year, is the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster-relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

KELSEY ADAMS/U.S. NAVY PHOTO

By WYATT OLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 16, 2016

FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii — The hospital ship USNS Mercy will stop off at Pearl Harbor Wednesday on its way to lead the region’s largest annual multilateral disaster-relief preparation mission.

Now in its 11th year, Pacific Partnership will take place over a four-and-a-half-month period. This year’s deployment – which includes more than 600 military and civilian personnel from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United Kingdom, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Japan – will be led from aboard the Mercy by Capt. Tom Williams, commander of the San Diego-based Destroyer Squadron 23.

However, unlike in previous years, Pacific Partnership 2016 will have a multinational command-and-control structure, which will include a deputy mission commander from the Australian Defense Force and a mission chief of staff from the New Zealand Defense Force.

Teams specializing in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine and civil engineering will partner with host nations East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, Palau, the Philippines and Vietnam to conduct community-health exchanges, medical symposiums, infrastructure projects and disaster-relief drills.

Pacific Partnership missions increase the host nations’ capabilities and provide an opportunity for the U.S. military to forge relationships with an extended presence during a non-crisis period, Williams said in a Navy statement.

“This dynamic mission is a great example of multilateral and civil-military cooperation and serves as a model for coordination among participating nations, government agencies and non-government organizations,” he said.

The Mercy’s visit to Vietnam will coincide with the 21st anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam. The relationship between the former adversaries has deepened in recent years, as Vietnam faces a more assertive China to the north. The neighbors are locked in a dispute over ownership of small islands in the South China Sea. Sovereignty over that land means control of possible minerals and petroleum beneath the sea floor, as well as dominion over shipping routes.

This year’s Pacific Partnership will also incorporate more precepts of the Women, Peace and Security initiative.

The White House released a plan of action for the initiative in 2011, which aims to ensure that women have a greater say in preventing conflict and building peace in countries threatened and affected by war, violence and insecurity.

The initiative calls for greater U.S. commitment to protecting women and children from harm and abuse in conflict areas, promoting women’s roles in preventing such conflicts and addressing the needs of women and girls in disaster and crisis response.

Pacific Partnership was conceived after the U.S. military led disaster relief for 2004’s devastating Southeast Asian tsunami. The Mercy responded to that disaster, then returned in 2006 for the first Pacific Partnership mission, which included militaries and non-governmental organizations from Bangladesh, East Timor, Indonesia and the Philippines.

olson.wyatt@stripes.com
Twitter: @WyattWOlson

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