By Capt. Christopher Engdahl
Mission Commander, Pacific Partnership 2015
As a Destroyer Squadron Commodore conducting Carrier Strike Group operations I had a wide variety of powerful weapons available for both offensive and defensive use. These weapons span the technological and lethal spectrum from complex surface-to-surface missiles, intelligent air dropped torpedoes, pinpoint munitions, incredibly accurate rapid firing gun systems, crew served weapons and even down to hand thrown ordnance. The effective training, exercise, and at-sea use of these weapons strikes to the core of the CNO’ s “Warfighting First” tenet, but upon embarking USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) as the non-combatant Mission Commander of Pacific Partnership I was forced to give up these Surface Warfare warfighting unique capabilities. Or so I thought…..I did not anticipate that I would be provided with an even more powerful, dynamic targeting capable, effect producing and all-weather weapon system…..the band.
Now you may consider my calling the band a “weapon system” a weak response to those who note that the U.S. military has more band members than some nations have in their entire troop inventory or you could call this a simple ploy to engender the team of incredibly talented musicians onboard Mercy and USNS Millinocket (JHSV 3) to work longer, play louder and entertain better in support of this critical humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission. This blog entry is neither of those things. It is simply a reflection, in warfighting vernacular, of the incredible impact I have seen this remarkable group of Sailors have on the host nations we have visited thus far during Pacific Partnership.
How is the Pacific Partnership band like a weapon system? Allow me to enumerate some of those reasons:
First, like every weapon system or piece of ordnance in the Navy’s inventory, it takes highly trained and intelligent Sailors to operate and be effective. The Sailors in this group have years of musical training and experience, way beyond the time allotted in any ‘A’ or ‘C’ school.
Second, this band is highly scalable. Small engagement at a Cooperative Health exchange in a remote village without power available –done. Rock Concert for 300 people to draw attendance at a disaster preparedness fair –done. Calming jazz ensemble when the 7 a.m. surgical screening call at the local hospital draws 200 more than expected –done.
Third, while advertised as an “all-weather” band, some band modes of operation do not take kindly to tropical winds, rain and heat. I have discovered one exception to this rule, the horn section (yes, to include the Tuba player).
Fourth, the band onboard the Pacific Partnership secondary command vessel, Millinocket, is a Joint band, comprised of U.S. Navy band and U.S. Army band members. A joint band of Army personnel from the 25th Infantry Division, based at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and Navy personnel from the Pearl Harbor-based U.S. Pacific Fleet Band are currently working in PP15 operations in Oceania.
The band makes an enduring and powerful impact wherever they are engaged. They have opened host nation doors to this mission that would otherwise have remained shut, they engender partner, non-governmental organization, and host nation cooperation that, in the long-term, will improve regional stability and security, and they clearly demonstrate the cooperative approach required for Pacific Partnership to be a success.
So, while this “weapon system” is not going to counter an air, surface or subsurface attack, the bands are just the right kind of “strategic strike” Pacific Partnership needs to bring nations together, build relationships, and share our respective cultures through the universal language of music.