By Capt Melanie Merrick
Medical Treatment Facility Commanding Officer, USNS Mercy (T-AH 19)
The sight of land today as the ship steams closer to Fiji for Pacific Partnership 2015 made me think back to the last Mercy Exercise we conducted in January with only a Critical Core of 100 personnel and the 60 members of the ship’s hospital Reduced Operating Status personnel onboard. That trip from San Diego to Portland seems so long ago now as we make our way ashore. It’s amazing how far we have come and how much the Medical Treatment Facility and the ship have accomplished in six months. We started with the basics, training in shipboard orientation and becoming familiar with the medical equipment onboard. Eventually we began running simple drills and worked through Courses of Action as we planned for potential disease outbreaks we might encounter. Now, Suva, Fiji is on the horizon and when I am asked if we are ready for patient care onboard, I don’t hesitate to answer, “YES!”
The hard work and commitment of many people got us here – A dedicated and skilled group of Culinary Specialists, Food Service Attendants, Logistics Specialists, Electronics.
Technicians and Information System Technicians brought the ship alive while still in the shipyard in Portland. We ramped up to Full Operating Status when another 450 personnel joined the ship and Team Mercy a few weeks ago as we completed the load-out and embarkation of medical staff, support staff, mission command staff, and some partner nation and non-governmental organization staff in San Diego. In Pearl Harbor, Hawaii more partner nation and non-governmental organization staff, including Project Hope, Operation Smile, Latter Day Saints Charities, University of California San Diego, University of Virginia, University of Hawaii, Project Handclasp, and World Vets, joined us one week into the mission. So, how did we transition from a newly refurbished and freshly painted naval vessel to this vibrant, thriving hospital ship?
Well, in a word – Training, or more accurately, Collaboration.
I know, Training is such a dreaded word. Many times I think we just go through the paces in order to get it over with. There are so many training requirements, certifications and qualifications that the Navy, the Medical community and many others require. Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a benefit from repetition as we become more proficient and skilled in our jobs and develop a more cohesive team. However, what I’ve seen in these past few weeks is a group of highly skilled professionals come together from the Navy, Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada and quickly synch up as a Medical Treatment Facility team. The training we have conducted onboard as we crossed the Pacific Ocean is more accurately described as learning and collaboration. I am confident that as we work with the wonderful people of each host nation, we will also learn so much from them. We will compare learning experiences and knowledge with the doctors, nurses, medics, veterinarians, Chaplains, shopkeepers, bus drivers, and patients everywhere we go. The more we do that, the more we contribute to the health and safety of the region and prepare for the day when we may need to team up and respond to a disaster. All of us onboard USNS Mercy are excited for this mission, and we want to thank the good people of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Republic of the Philippines, and Vietnam for inviting us to teach, to learn from, and to collaborate with them for Pacific Partnership 2015.