Our Pacific Partnership schedule of events is based on requests by the host nations, and Arawa, the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea was assessed as having the greatest need due to a generation of conflict and remoteness from the capital. The local population faces multiple challenges of war injuries, untreated illnesses and low health resources. There was a need for immediate assistance, and the unique strategic capability delivered by USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) achieved this through Community Health Engagements – this was the first time many of the local population had seen a doctor or dentist, and treating about 3,000 people relieved years of suffering for many. Despite the lack of resources, local medical personnel are passionate about improving the long term care, and the Subject Matter Expert Engagement (SMEE) program run by Pacific Partnership helped strengthen that capability. For example, the ‘Helping Babies Breathe’ program provided lessons and equipment to save the lives of newborn children not only in Arawa, but in remote outposts, and will prove to be an enduring benefit of PP15 and can be measured in the many lives that will be saved.
There were two engineering projects at local schools in Arawa and another in Buka. With many of the current population lost to conflict, schooling the next generation is critical. Pacific Partnership provides not only increased classroom capacity, but the building methods used by Seabees and Australian and Japanese engineers provide structures able to withstand cyclones and tropical weather.
Arawa also represented an expansion of the Pacific Partnership mission into the Women, Peace and Security program. Women in many communities have suffered disproportionally, but their empowerment and participation is critical for economic, health and social advancement. WPS ‘operationalized’ practical ways to support local women, and is the fastest growing component of PP15. WPS effectiveness is enhanced by the example of so many women in PP15 leadership and specialist roles, and the conspicuous role of military and non-governmental organizational women at the forefront of all activities ashore and every department onboard. As with all PP15 activities, WPS is an interactive exchange with the host nation, and the resilience of Arawa women has provided insight into how we can grow the mission to across the Pacific and back in our own communities.
This is also a great opportunity to acknowledge those members of the Pacific Partnership team based onboard. All those working the galley, messing and scullery have an operational tempo equal to any other department on the ship and their cheerful enthusiasm is inspiring. They too deliver ongoing effects – the receptions for host nation leadership open many doors for the U.S. diplomats long after Mercy has departed.
The effects of what we have been able to achieve in Papua New Guinea were realized even more for me as we transited away from Papua New Guinea and headed to the Philippines. During our transit we passed many historical naval battle sites, including the WWII headquarters for the Japanese who attacked the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps at Guadalcanal. U.S. forces suffered many casualties in land and sea battles, but turned the tide against tyranny. Not unlike those many years ago when they had to overcome the effects of WWII, Bougainvilleans are still evolving their own political future after additional conflict over the years since. But restoring peace requires ensuring that people can live lives of dignity and have access to basic services. The public health and the Subject Matter Expert engagements, school construction, environmental health, police mentoring, animal welfare, Women, Peace and Security events and Key Leadership engagements provided through PP15 supports enduring strategic outcomes as well as the immediate benefits for Arawa.