Finding the True Meaning of Pacific Partnership

By Capt. Christopher Engdahl
Mission Commander Pacific Partnership 2015

As the sun sets on Pacific Partnership 2015 and my time as the Mission Commander comes to a close I felt my final mission blog could go in one of two different directions.

SUVA, Fiji (June 10, 2015) Students from the Fiji Maritime Academy take a photo with Capt. Christopher Engdahl, mission commander of Pacific Partnership 2015 during a community outreach project. Engdahl visited with students and teachers from the school and took a tour of the campus. The hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) is currently in Suva, Fiji for its first mission port of PP15.

SUVA, Fiji (June 10, 2015) Students from the Fiji Maritime Academy take a photo with Capt. Christopher Engdahl, mission commander of Pacific Partnership 2015 during a community outreach project. Engdahl visited with students and teachers from the school and took a tour of the campus. The hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) is currently in Suva, Fiji for its first mission port of PP15.

I could go with the standard model and relay to you the long list of individual accomplishments achieved, patients seen, surgeries conducted, nautical miles steamed, buildings constructed, or community engagements completed. All valuable data that, in the moment would give you pause, but in the long run be forgotten memories only recalled via Google as years go by. So I chose a different direction, knowing that this mission was anything but standard and recognizing the growth and cohesiveness our PP15 team achieved as multinational, Joint, and civilian HA/DR TEAM. I decided to write this blog separate from a perspective of individual accomplishment, away from the metrics and measures and toward a focus on what the Pacific Partnership 2015 TEAM really meant to those who participated, those we helped, and those who will follow us.

BASIAO, Philippines (Aug. 1, 2015) Construction Engineer 3rd Class Juan Lopez says goodbye to a crying student at the Basiao Elementary School ribbon cutting ceremony. U.S. Navy Seabees and U.S. Air Force RED HORSE engineers from the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), spent two weeks with the students while rebuilding parts of the school that had been damaged in Hurricane Yolanda.

BASIAO, Philippines (Aug. 1, 2015) Construction Engineer 3rd Class Juan Lopez says goodbye to a crying student at the Basiao Elementary School ribbon cutting ceremony. U.S. Navy Seabees and U.S. Air Force RED HORSE engineers from the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), spent two weeks with the students while rebuilding parts of the school that had been damaged in Hurricane Yolanda.

One thousand individuals sailed with Mercy nearly five months ago. There was no defining team certification or unifying exercise to pull us all together. The order was to simply report at the chosen time for sailing, stow your gear, find your berthing, locate your muster point and fall in on the plan for mission execution that had been in development for the last six months. Surgeon to cook, radiology technician to Civilian Mariner, Surface Warrior to security augment, we were quite literally thrown together and sailing toward our first mission site. We would learn to live, prepare and work together while simultaneously striving to improve the HA/DR resiliency of our host nations and expanding our interoperability with our allies and partners. The number of actual Mercy Pacific Partnership veterans could be counted on two hands, so this deployment was a first for 98 percent of us. That meant we had to come together quicker than expected, give more of ourselves than was expected, and partner in new and more dynamic ways that ever expected. My hope for our PP15 team is that one of the most meaningful things they take away from this deployment was being part of the TEAM that exceeded all those expectations.

During our mission visits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire” one truth became apparent to me: one individual family cannot recover from a natural disaster alone, nor can one village or even one province. In fact, in the whole of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region there is not a single nation that can recover from a natural disaster alone. It has to be a regional effort – a TEAM effort, and that will hold true from today until the very distant future. In this realization, I found one of the biggest meanings in the mission, and consequently one of my biggest mistakes during PP15. In talking about the countries Pacific Partnership 2015 visited, I listed each one: Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, the Republic of the Philippines, Solomon Islands, Vietnam, and Fiji. But now as I look back on our mission, I realize I left out one small detail that is the answer to what Pacific Partnership really means to those we helped – I should have started each country on this list by saying “the people of.” What we brought the people of these countries is hope, familiarity, and interoperability with the TEAM that will help them recover from a natural disaster.

DA NANG, Vietnam (Aug. 19, 2015) Lt. John Luckesen, a Navy chaplain assigned to the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), paints a Vietnamese child's face during Pacific Partnership 2015. Mercy is currently in Vietnam for its fourth mission port of PP15.

DA NANG, Vietnam (Aug. 19, 2015) Lt. John Luckesen, a Navy chaplain assigned to the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), paints a Vietnamese child’s face during Pacific Partnership 2015. Mercy is currently in Vietnam for its fourth mission port of PP15.

Finally, what will Pacific Partnership 2015 mean to those who follow? A more difficult consideration knowing that talented individuals will continue to be assigned, leadership will continue to allocate scare resources and thorough planning will still occur. I believe this TEAM will mean more than just a metric standard to exceed. We will represent excellence achieved, partnerships advanced, professional standards both in conduct and performance represented, and detailed thoroughness in every evolution conducted. We were self-sufficient, accurate in our reporting, and truthful in our self-assessment. We demonstrate unbelievable tactical mobility. We were disciplined in the application of economy of force, and we have made firm our nation’s commitment to credible permanence in the region. Perhaps most importantly, this soon to be dispersed TEAM will inculcate those talented individuals selected for future missions with the true meanings of Pacific Partnership.

 

 

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