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Diplomacy in Action

Pacific Partnership 2012: Preparing in Calm to Respond in Crisis

Captain James Morgan, Mission Commander, Pacific Partnership 2012; Captain Timothy Hinman, Medical Treatment Facility Commanding Officer, Pacific Partnership 2012; and Captain Jonathan Olmsted, Ship's Master, USNS MERCY (T-AH-19), Military Sealift Command
Washington, DC
April 18, 2012

Date: 04/18/2012 Location: Washington, DC Description: Captain James Morgan, Captain Timothy Hinman, and Captain Jonathan Olmsted, brief at the Washington Foreign Press Center on ''Pacific Partnership 2012: Preparing in Calm to Respond in Crisis.'' - State Dept Image

1:00 P.M., EST


MODERATOR: Hello, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today we have Captain James Morgan, the mission commander of Pacific Partnership 2012; Captain Timothy Hinman, the commanding officer of the medical treatment facility; and Captain Jonathan Olmsted, the ship’s master of the USNS Mercy. Today they’re going to talk about the exercise Pacific Partnership 2012: Preparing in Calm to Respond in Crisis.

Without further ado, here’s Captain Morgan.

CPT MORGAN: Okay. I want to – first of all, I want to thank you for being here today. We have a – somewhat of a short presentation that I think will help set the stage for the rest of this. But on behalf of all the 1,000 people who are about to take part in Pacific Partnership 2012 – we actually deploy about two weeks from yesterday – Pacific Partnership is the largest humanitarian Pacific assistance theater security cooperation mission in the 7th Fleet. It’s in its seventh year of existence and will be deploying on USNS Mercy on the – May 1st, 2012.

This is a picture from the tsunami efforts in 2004. This is actually a picture of Sumatra.

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The genesis of Pacific Partnership 2012 was actually the tsunami relief efforts in 2004 that took place as part of Unified Assistance. It showed us a need for a dedicated effort among partner host nations and the interagency and the international community to try and do a better job of building the capacity and building the relationships necessary to respond to a natural disaster when it occurs. Natural disasters in this area of the world are fairly common. That’s why they call it the ring of fire. But I’d like to emphasize that the purpose of Pacific Partnership 2012 was to build the relationships over a long period of time so that the governments can come together as one to respond to national disasters and build the capacity required to respond to those disasters when they happen.

A little bit of history of Pacific Partnership – it was the first mission after the 2004 tsunami. It was actually 2006, and the USNS Mercy, and it’s continued every year since then. The Mercy deploys once – or every two years, and then on the other years it’s a U.S. Navy vessel, one of our amphibious ships. The 2012 mission deploys to Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia. This is a regularly-scheduled mission. In this case, this will be the third time we’ve visited Indonesia, the fourth time we’ve visited the Philippines, the fourth time for Vietnam, and this will be our second time for Cambodia.

Overall, as I’ve mentioned, we’ll deploy on the first of May from San Diego with a large complement of the people that will be participating. We’ll continue to embark personnel both in Pearl Harbor and Guam, and then we will continue on to conduct our first mission in Indonesia. Following Indonesia, we will conduct a 14-day mission in the Philippines, followed by Vietnam. And on the heels of the ASEAN conference, we will complete the mission in Cambodia. This mission is a – approximately 150 days long, but it’s – the important part is the mission itself in each country takes place for 14 days.

It’s important that we recognize not only the host nations who have invited us to participate in Pacific Partnership in their countries – again, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia, and Vietnam – but also the 13 partner nations that we have joining us: Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines.

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We also need to recognize those nations and those providers of – from our NGOs. This year we have up to a growing number of almost 21 NGOs – nongovernmental organizations who provide additional capacity in the form of not only donations but personnel, engineers, veterinary, medical, as well as donations through organizations like Global Grins, who provided over a hundred thousand toothbrushes; Latter Day Saints Charities, which also provides not only donations but also personnel to supplement the mission; and we have representation on the mission across all the services and the interagency. I like to refer to Pacific Partnership as a whole-of-government approach to building capacity and responding to natural disasters and the relationships and capacity we build with our host and partner nations.

And of course, what would the mission be without USNS Mercy, and I’ll turn it over to John Olmsted to talk a little bit about Mercy and what she brings as far as a capacity.

CPT OLMSTED: Good afternoon. USNS Mercy is one of two Navy hospital ships. Her sister ship, Comfort, operates out of Baltimore. The Mercy is 894 feet long, roughly the length of three football fields, just a couple hundred feet shorter than an aircraft carrier. She was originally built as a commercial oil tanker, then converted into a hospital ship and delivered to the Navy in 1986. She’s been home ported in San Diego since the late ’90s.

Mercy is owned and operated for the Navy by Military Sealift Command, or MFC. MFC is a Navy command who is responsible for operating the Navy’s noncombatant ships – the replenishment ships, special mission ships, towing and salvage ships, including the two hospital ships.

As a civilian mariner under MFC, I am the ship’s master, responsible for the safe operation of the ship as well as the safety and security of all personnel on board. To help run the ship, I lead a crew of 70 civil service mariners, like myself all employed by MFC. Throughout the year, Mercy is normally kept in what we call a reduced operating status with a bare skeleton crew of 15 civil service mariners and 60 Navy medical personnel to keep the ship’s machinery and hospital equipment in a state of readiness. In case of emergency, she can transition to full operating status in just five days.

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For this mission, we will be embarking two Navy MH-60 Sierra helicopters just like the one in the picture. These will be used to help move cargo and personnel between ship and shore, a large part of the logistics piece of the mission. Mercy deploys every other year. As part of her cycle on even numbered years, she’s the platform of choice for the specific Partnership mission.

Some more notes about Mercy’s civilian crew: To put it in perspective, although for the entire mission Mercy will have roughly a thousand people on board, the large majority of those – 800-900 plus – are either Navy or civilian NGO volunteers involved with the medical side of the mission. Mercy’s actual crew, as I mentioned, consists of just 69, 70 civilian mariners to operate the ship, navigate the ship, maintain the ship’s systems, providing power, electricity, heat, and water to the entire ship, including the hospital spaces and all the living spaces.

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One particularly challenging aspect of this year’s mission is, because of Mercy’s size and remote areas we’ll be visiting, we will not be able to pull into any pier side facilities to tie up. So we’ll either be anchored offshore or, in the case of Indonesia, remaining off shore underway the entire time. So in order to transfer doctors, nurses, and patients from shore to ship back and forth, we’ll be operating these two 33-foot utility boats between 12 and 16 hours a day ferrying passengers.

Our civilian crew is excited. We like to participate in these missions. It’s a unique opportunity for us. We bring special – specialized training and engineering skills. We’ll be participating in some of the shore-side missions with technical assistance, engineering repairs, and subject-matter exchanges.

So on behalf of Military Sealift Command, we’re all looking forward to it. It’s a unique opportunity. And now, Captain Hinman will continue with the discussion on the medical treatment facility and the medical capabilities with the ship.

CPT HINMAN: Thank you. So this is our ship, and I’m the commanding officer of the hospital portion aboard that ship. I’m a fulltime employee on that ship as the commanding officer of the hospital. And in – when we’re tied up to port in San Diego, we have approximately 60 personnel. On mission – on this mission, we’ll have approximately 800, 850, if you include the NGOs and partner nations, for our medical work that we’ll be doing.

The hospital – the U.S. hospital ships that the U.S. has in their inventory have been employed extensively for humanitarian and disaster response. Of note, the Mercy did deploy in 2004 for the tsunami response, and that was the genesis of the mission that we’re embarking on 1 May Pacific Partnership.

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So the hospital aboard Mercy brings a substantial medical addition capability. Its footprint, its capabilities, are that of any large hospital, whether it’s based in the United States or overseas. And it has one of the largest capabilities to receive and treat trauma anywhere in the world. Of course, this is a hospital that floats, and that’s very unique. We have full spectrum of all medical capabilities. This includes X-rays, CT scanning capability, dental, optometry, a lens fabrication lab. We have a blood bank capable of maintaining up to 3,500 units of blood. We even have the capability to manufacture our own oxygen.

But the real capacity I think that we bring is in our people. We have a background of some of the best and brightest of Navy medicine coming from our training centers, our faculties that are training doctors today to become specialists in their fields. We also, in addition to our military backbone of personnel, also have working side by side with us our NGO partners, we’ll have partner nations that will be with us, and of course we’ll be working directly with the medical professionals in the countries that we are going to.

I’m especially indebted to the military personnel and the medical folks that we have partnered with in planning this mission, and by no means could we be where we’re at or even conduct the mission without their lead.

So if we go back one slide, please, just to highlight the things that we’ll be doing on the ship, we’ll be bringing capacity in the forms of what the ship has through some – through a variety of activities. One of those is surgery, so surgery on board, one of our 12 operating rooms on board the ship. We’ll be performing surgery in the countries that we go to from host nation patients. And the procedures themselves will be surgeons from our partner nations, our own military, and host nation.

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This is a typical activity of what we will do on shore. So this is – this looks like a dental care site. Oftentimes we will pick a suitable site, with help from the country, where we can deliver healthcare directly to the people. Oftentimes this is a school. We try to find an environment which we can work, again, side by side the host nation medical professionals and exchange professionally in ideas and understanding of how we each practice medicine. This is a typical veterinarian care site.

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And I’d like to conclude with our subject matter expert exchanges as a third tier of what the hospital ship, or the medical portion thereof, will bring, so medical exchanges between healthcare professionals so that we can better understand each other’s systems of care. These would be blended up – would be blended avenues of teaching, whereby we’ll have military members, again, partner nation and host nation could collaboratively engage each other, whether that’s in symposiums, lecturing scenarios. This – illustrate is a food safety presentation. We’ll also partake in that time-honored method by which doctors teach other doctors about their patients in hospital rounding on patients within hospitals. That’ll take board – take place aboard the Mercy and it will take place also in the country hospitals that we visit.

At this point, I’d like to turn things back to Commodore Morgan for specific comments on the rest of the mission.

CPT MORGAN: So a couple more comments and then we’ll open up the floor for questions.

In addition to being a medical mission, this is also a – Pacific Partnership brings a substantial engineering and construction capability. We actually fly our engineers into many of these countries early. They conduct the mission while Mercy is there and often complete the projects after we leave. These projects are coordinated well in advance of the mission. They are driven by the host nation as far as their priorities, concentrate a lot on schools, clinics, and medical facilities, to refurbish them or completely rebuild them.

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We conduct many community relations projects, interacting with the local populace. It can be through sporting events, it can be through schools, it can be through – next slide – musical events, so forth, again building on subject matter exchanges with the local population, help build capacity in that relationship.

As part of our planning process, we engage with senior leadership among all four countries. In this case, I visited the Philippines and engaged with the embassy there, the local government, the local leadership, and the local military to ensure that we were aligned with the priorities not only of the host nation, but what we were able to accomplish through the mission of Pacific Partnership 2012.

For the phrase we’ve coined, preparing in calm to respond in crisis, we made in this case social media, staying in touch, telling the story, aligning with the local media through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogs. So in this case, since we rolled out the mission this week, we made the official announcement of Pacific Partnership 2012’s mission to – in this year. Our website is now active, and we ask that that continually to be – stay in touch with us so that they can track the mission and what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

And in closing, this is really what it’s all about. This is part of my visit to the Philippines as part of our senior leader visit engagement. So it’s not only with the embassy or the local government but also with the local populace – in this case, one of the schools that we visited.

And so with that, we would open it up to any questions anybody might have, and we are ready to answer.

MODERATOR: As you – as we move to the Q&A portion of the event, please state your name and publication for the transcript.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m – is it on? Okay. I’m Scott Stewart with the Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun. I was wondering, I read during the response to the tsunami and earthquake in Japan that one of the important factors in the success of the U.S. effort there was that the U.S. had the – a close military relationship and that the two sides’ military forces were accustomed to dealing with each other, and so they could effectively respond. I wondered if – is that part of the purpose behind the Pacific Partnership, that you establish the relationships with those local governments and (inaudible)?

CPT MORGAN: Well, it’s a – Captain Olmsted and I were involved in that actual tsunami relief effort as part of Ronald Reagan Strike Group. We had built a relationship with the Japanese Government and the Japanese military over a long period of time, and I think what that operation did was validate how important it is to build those relationships and continue to operate together, because that shows whenever a disaster like that strikes, you can rapidly build on those relationships, take advantage of those relationships to incorporate and respond together.

In the case of my goal there, we arrived off the coast of Japan within 48 hours, and within that time, we were able to exchange officers. There were officers that came from the Japanese military self-defense force, who came on Reagan, familiar with the area. We brought substantial capacity with our helicopters not only from Reagan but the other ships that contributed to the mission. We exchanged an officer onto one of the Japanese ships so that we could synchronize our efforts and make sure that there was nothing being lost.

So to answer your question, I think it’s incredibly important to build those relationships over time because we can always surge forces but we can’t always surge trust. And if you build that trust over a certain period of time, then when that disaster strikes, you already have the relationships that work together to ease human suffering.

CPT OLMSTED: I’d like to also add and I’d like to point out that that process has been occurring over the last half year since last fall when we started our planning process. If an event were to occur today, already we have the relationships with the countries we’re visiting by the process of planning that we’ve taken. So whether you’re talking the Philippine military or the Indonesian military, we have key relationships, along with their governmental personnel as well.

CPT MORGAN: I just want to add specifically with regards to Japan, during two of the mission countries, they’re going to be a strong partner along with the contribution of one of their warships and two landings, the fly craft, to assist with the logistics piece. You assume it will be part of the mission for Vietnam and the Philippines, as Japanese is a partner nation for those two countries.

QUESTION: A partner --

CPT MORGAN: The partner nation. They are – we are – we have the host nations who have invited us to take part in the Pacific Partnership in their countries, and then we have our partner nations who are the 13 that I listed who have agreed to contribute either personnel, capacity, or in the case of the Japanese Government a ship to take part in the mission and add additional capacity to the Philippine mission and the Vietnamese mission.

QUESTION: So the partners aren’t all involved in all of the host --

CPT MORGAN: No, there are a couple of countries such as Canada and Australia who are in the mission from start to finish, and so they’ll participate in all four countries. We have some countries that only contribute in one country, and we have some that will contribute in two, such as Japan and Vietnam and the Philippines. So it’s a constantly changing dynamic based on what they can contribute, how they can contribute, when they can embark the ship.

So – but across the entire spectrum of the mission over the four countries, we have 13 partner nations who have agreed to provide some sort of capacity in one or all of those countries. So – and it’s – that’s – at this point, that’s the highest number that we’ve ever had contributing to this mission. And the number of NGOs we’ve had express an interest in participating is up to 21, so we continue to build on previous missions to increase those numbers. Again, a whole-of-government approach to this mission and what we’re trying to accomplish.

MODERATOR: Are there any further questions?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MODERATOR: Well, to prompt further discussion, I wonder if you might talk a little bit further about the Civil-Military Coordination Cell.

CPT MORGAN: The Civil-Military Coordination Cell, among many things that we do, we always build on previous lessons learned from previous missions. Previous missions have always incorporated nongovernmental organizations, partner nations, so forth, in the mission. But we did not ever actually give them what I would say – or provide them with a dedicated space and a dedicated forum to actually exchange ideas, work together, to not only synchronize or coordinate what is going on ashore with their own organizations, with their own nations.

What we needed to do was, and one of the recommendations was, in order to incorporate that kind of expertise, that kind of capacity into the evaluation process for the mission both as well as the planning process from the mission, that we should come up with a Civil-Military Coordination Center, something outside of the military realm, the U.S. military realm, even though it will have U.S. military representation within there, to give them a forum to exchange ideas, to evaluate how the mission is going, and then take all of those lessons learned and fold them into the planning process, which is a daily part of the mission. So they can synchronize their efforts ashore. They can bring capacity. They can also take control and assess how their organizations are doing and how we can adjust our scheme of maneuver to actually make the mission better as the mission goes along.

It’s the first time we’ve ever tried this. It was a lesson learned, so this was more what I would call a pilot. We’ve had substantial help from our own civil-military affairs within the U.S. military to help us build the structure and the scheme of maneuver and incorporate them in there. So again, it’s an example of what we thought we needed in previous missions we’ve incorporated in this mission. We’ll evaluate it throughout the mission to see how it works out at the end and whether or not it’s something we’re continuing in missions that continue after this.

MODERATOR: I wonder also if you could talk a little bit about the role of civilian mariners in the mission.

CPT OLMSTED: I’d just reiterate – I spoke before about the Military Sealift Command, a distinct agency within the Department of Defense. MSC owns and operates all of the Navy noncombatant ships, a wide variety of missions including fleet replenishment, towing, salvage, special mission, and the hospital ships. Specifically on Mercy, we have a crew of 70 civilian mariners to run and operate the ship, maintain all the shipboard systems, and provide for the safety and comfort of the 1,000 embarked personnel for the mission.

MODERATOR: Are there any further questions?

QUESTION: [Scott Stewart, Sankei Shimbun] I’ve got a quick question. What is the role of the Department of Justice? I thought – what do they contribute?

CPT MORGAN: Well, the Department of Justice – we are provided with an embarked Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent to provide for threat assessments, law enforcement, so there’s a connection between the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Department of Justice throughout the mission. So as part of – and we have an NCIS presence in at least two or three of the countries that we are going to. So the Department of Justice provides that link to the overall scheme of maneuver for investigative service, anything that we need to know when we go into each country.

MODERATOR: Are there any further questions? If there are no further questions, this event is now concluded.

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