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Mercy Crew Reflects on Delivering Hope, Then and Now

A little over five years ago the hospital ship USNS Mercy deployed to Southeast Asia as part of the United States’ response to the 2004 Tsunami.  In 2006 U.S. Pacific Fleet sent Mercy back to the region building on the success and goodwill of the previous operation while demonstrating the United States’ commitment to the region.  In 2007, U.S. Pacific Fleet prepared another humanitarian assistance deployment designed to continue to build the relationships upon which security and stability in the region depend. It was given the title Pacific Partnership.

This summer USNS Mercy has again visited countries around Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia, with a stop in Timor-Leste just around the corner, as part of Pacific Partnership 2010. Amazingly, a number of the same crew members were aboard USNS Mercy when the ship responded to the devastation following the 2004 Tsunami!

We asked them for their reflections on that period as well as what they see this year as they continue to strengthen alliances, improve U.S. and partner capacity to deliver humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and improve security cooperation among partner nations.

Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia (Jan. 14, 2004) - An Indonesian Woman searches through debris in the rain, where her house once stood, in the city of Banda Aceh on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia.

“I served as Deputy Surgeon, US Pacific Fleet, Pearl Harbor during the 2004 Tsunami disaster. The Indonesian government was very reluctant to accept our help since military relations had been minimal for the preceding decade and the Iraq War had strained relations with the entire Muslim world.  All this changed when our aid and that of the entire world responded. The Indonesian government decided to accept outside assistance.  Staged humanitarian and stabilization operations including the USNS Mercy along with NGOs, partner nations, Indonesian government forces and civilians made a tremendous impact on the recovery in the involved areas. Thus was born, In the face of overwhelming devastation, a great success for international cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief with hope for the future. It is directly from this experience and its impact on global stability and welfare that ongoing operations such as Pacific Partnership take place.” – RDML (Ret.) Marshall E. Cusic, M.D. Project HOPE Medical Director (Rotation-1)

“(I remember) — a father standing in the CASREC on Mercy holding the limp very lifeless body of his daughter. The translator explained to me that the man was asking for the doctors to save his daughter. She was all he had.  His wife and other children had been killed…  Mercy saved his daughter.” – Joseph M. Watts, Military Sealift Command civil service mariner

“We returned to Banda Ache in 2006. Seeing many of the past Mercy patients was a terrific feeling. One young boy had his scrap book with his collection of photographs he got from Mercy.” – Joseph M. Watts, Military Sealift Command civil service mariner

TERNATE, Indonesia (July 19, 2010) Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eddie Harrison, embarked with the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), plays table tennis with an Indonesian boy at Kalumpang Kota Orphanage and School during a community service event.

“The most important thing we take away from the 2010 Partnership is the desire and will of humanity to help each other without regard to race or religion.” – Dan Zelenka, Military Sealift Command civil service mariner

“Operations like Pacific Partnership 2010 are exactly what our country and its Navy should be doing in these times. The world is a smaller place and those who live on the other side of the world are literally our neighbors… ” – RDML (Ret.) Marshall E. Cusic, M.D. Project HOPE Medical Director (Rotation-1)

“I have had the distinct privilege to have served on Mercy for the tsunami response, 2006 return, Pacific Partnership 2008 and now Pacific Partnership 2010.  The MSC motto “We Deliver” is in this case “We Deliver Hope.” —  Joseph M. Watts, Military Sealift Command civil service mariner

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