Project HOPE Volunteer
“You mean to tell me you volunteered for this mission? Are you crazy?!?!” In my three weeks on the Mercy, having finally mastered the maze that is this ship and having finally developed a general, albeit limited, understanding of the military jargon and rules necessary to successfully exist here, this exclamation is the most common and amusing reaction I’ve received from my new friends on this mission.
While I appreciate the general concern for my apparently questionable sanity, I would like to assure everyone that I am, for the most part, not crazy. However, when I first arrived in San Diego to commence withPacific Partnership 2015, I too thought, “You know, Molly, you just might be completely insane.” This is why:
I live in a ramshackle apartment (which I love) in Boston (which I love) close to my friends and family (all of whom I love dearly). I have never lived on a ship, I have never ever been to the west coast, let alone the South Pacific, and I did not know a single soul who would be participating in this mission with me. Sounds crazy, right?
On a whim in February, after a productive conversation with a mentor about choosing a career path or doing something different, I chose the “something different” and I applied through Project HOPE to join the Pacific Partnership 2015 mission. I was attracted to Project HOPE when I first read their mission statement: “To achieve sustainable advances in health care around the world by implementing health education programs and providing humanitarian assistance in areas of need.” Founded in 1958, HOPE’s teams have worked to provide permanent solutions to health problems around the world by providing not only medical assistance but health education as well. Project HOPE is committed to finding solutions and helping people help themselves. I have always been passionate about universal access to proper healthcare, so when I read about Pacific Partnership I knew I had to get involved. I had zero experience with Project HOPE, very limited experience with the military, and enough JetBlue travel credits to fly me to San Diego.
When I arrived at the ship on May 15, I could not have been more of a civilian. I didn’t know that I needed a military escort to gain access to the pier, which led to an interesting few hours with base military security late one night. I went to chow the first morning in workout clothes and got a lot of attention and questioning stares. I definitely didn’t know what “flight quarters” meant when they called it over the ship’s internal loudspeaker, so I found myself accidentally enjoying a private airshow when a helicopter was trying to land before I wised up and went inside.
Since then, I’ve spent the last three weeks aboard the ship learning everything I can- from how to identify ranks in each of the military branches to how to properly tie various knots, to how to embrace the rocking of the ship when trying to safely navigate a stairwell. And yes, I eventually learned what flight quarters means. For the record, when flight quarters is called, it means that various places outside of the ship are off limits, meaning that no one but the flight crew is allowed outside.
I came in to this mission with few expectations, if only because I had no idea what to expect. I have found myself pleasantly surprised each day. I certainly never expected to participate in something like the crossing the line ceremony to become a Golden Shellback. The crossing the line ceremony is a centuries-old mariner’s tradition that is observed when a ship crosses the equator. The two day event consists of the “Trusty Shellbacks,” those who have crossed the equator, introducing the “Pollywogs”, those who have not yet had the pleasure of crossing the equator, into the “Mystic Rites and Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep,” ruled by none other than King Neptune himself. The “Pollywogs” must entertain for and then be deemed worthy by the Royal Court, including King Neptune, the Royal Baby, the Royal Doctor, and Davy Jones. From the “Pollywog” talent show to the steel beach picnic (which is basically a backyard BBQ on the flight deck), I was pleased to witness the community come together to participate in what is truly a fun (and hilarious) tradition.
The spirit and enthusiasm I witnessed during Golden Shellback heightened my excitement for Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines. As the public affairs representative for Project HOPE, I have no doubt that I’ll be documenting a truly unique experience and feel privileged to be a part of this group of people that is so passionate about bringing humanitarian relief to our host nations, and I am excited to share this mission with our wider audience.
I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to be a part of this mission. I have already met so many interesting, smart, and genuinely kind people, all of whom share the same goal- to make this mission a success. I am excited to get to know and learn from even more shipmates as the mission progresses.