DOD News Briefing with Capt. James Morgan and Capt. Jonathan Olmstead
CAPTAIN GREG HICKS: Good morning, everyone. I'm Captain Greg Hicks. I'm with the Chief of Information's Office for Navy Public Affairs. I welcome you to the 2012 Pacific Partnership press briefing.
Pacific Partnership 2012 is the largest annual humanitarian and civic action mission in the Asia-Pacific region. It is a U.S.-Pacific Fleet mission coordinated by, with and through host and partner nations, nongovernmental organizations and other international agencies to ensure that the international community is better prepared to synchronize and function together as a coordinated force when disaster strikes.
With me today is Captain James Morgan, commander, Destroyer Squadron 7, the mission commander for Pacific Partnership 2012 and Captain Jonathan Olmsted from Military Sealift Command, who is the master for the USNS Mercy. Gentlemen?
CAPTAIN JAMES MORGAN: Good morning. How are we all doing today? I appreciate the opportunity to be here today and -- as does Jon -- and for scheduling the shuttle around all this. So that being said, again, I'd like to thank you again for joining me today for the mission rollout for Pacific Partnership 2012. Today Jon Olmsted, the ship's master, the commanding officer of USNS Mercy, Military Sealift Command ship, is here with me today.
On behalf of 1,000 military and civilian personnel who will be taking part in the Pacific Partnership 2012 mission, I can tell you right now I'm very glad this day is here, because it means we're deploying very soon. This announcement signals that we'll be deploying on the 1st of May, 2012, from San Diego, California, about 10:00 in the morning.
Pacific Partnership 2012 is in its seventh year. It has become, as Captain Hicks noted, the largest annual humanitarian civic assistance mission we have in the Asia-Pacific region. Pacific Partnership is a U.S. Pacific Fleet-sponsored mission which builds enduring relationships by working through and with host nations to enhance our collective ability and capacity to respond to natural disasters.
Today I'm pleased to announce, as I said, that the 2012 Pacific Partnership Mission is scheduled to deploy from San Diego onboard USNS Mercy on Tuesday, May 1st, 1000 local time. At the invitation of four host governments -- Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam -- our crew will deploy first to the Republic of Indonesia from May 31st to June 15th. We'll visit and conduct our mission in North Sulawesi, the city of Manado, and the islands of Sangihe and Siau.
In the Republic of the Philippines, we'll deploy and conduct a mission from June 18th to July 1st. The mission will be conducted in Western Samar, and then we'll conduct work in the villages of San Isidro, Catbalogan City, again, from June 18th to the 1st of July.
In Vietnam we'll deploy and conduct a mission from the city of Vinh, which is located north in the Nghe An province, from approximately July 10th until July 24th.
And finally, on the heels of the ASEAN conference, we will deploy to the Kingdom of Cambodia, in the cities and towns of Sihanoukville, Phnom Penh. We will complete that mission from July 28th to August 11th.
This constitutes 14 days in each country as part of the mission. We will return to San Diego in mid-September 2012.
We'd also like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the host nations who have invited us to conduct this mission, and also for their hospitality, the close coordination we've already enjoyed, not only through our predeployment site survey teams, but during the visits I had during the -- during my senior leader visits in February.
Working with and through our host nations, Pacific Partnership brings the capacity of our best professional military and civilian practitioners as well as our U.S. partner nations and nongovernmental organizations to conduct medical, dental, veterinary, engineering, community relations and subject-matter expert exchanges.
This year the U.S. is joined by a still-growing list of partner nations, which now includes Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Thailand.
In the course of responding to a natural disaster, it is very common for multiple countries to respond to that natural disaster together. Past real-world missions such as Operation Tomodachi, which was conducted in March 2011, which I participated in as part of DESRON 7 embarked in the Ronald Reagan Strike Group, validate and prove the need for countries throughout the Pacific to participate in these missions, to build the relationships, to build the capacity to respond in time of crisis and human suffering.
Missions like Pacific Partnership enhance our operability between militaries, government agencies and civilian organizations, again enabling faster and more efficient responses to disasters and national crises.
In addition to working with so many foreign governments, I'd like to emphasize another unique aspect of the mission, which is our civilian organizations. Nongovernmental organizations and the international agencies are a critical part of the continuity that maintains and builds capacity with local populations from year to year. The Pacific Partnership is an annual mission conducted by different people from mission to mission. However, our NGOs continue to maintain that continuity because they are who participate in the mission every year and maintain that continuity from one mission to the next.
This year, Pacific Partnership is proud to be joined by a still- rising number of nongovernmental organizations, to include the East- West Center, Global Grins, Hope Worldwide, Latter-Day Saints Charities, Project Handclasp, Project Hope, the University of California at San Diego Pre-Dental Society, the University of Hawaii and World Vets.
We also participate in this mission with USAID, the Department of Justice and NOAA, and, of course, our other parent -- our other partner services, the Army, Air Force and the Marine Corps. Pacific Partnership is a whole-of-government interagency mission, again, to build capacity and our ability to respond collectively to natural disasters.
I've often been asked why a mission like Pacific Partnership is necessary. I can say firsthand it demonstrates our commitment from the U.S. and numerous partner nations and civilian organizations to a dedicated effort to promote peace, stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
I mentioned the amount of time I spent off the coast of Japan in March of 2011, the devastation of the tsunami that hit Japan. I can say firsthand that our ability to rapidly respond to a crisis and work alongside our counterparts in the Japanese government and military was completely built on practicing interoperability. It was built on an enduring relationship that has existed for many years. It was a relationship which allowed us to quickly coordinate and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief at a time of crisis to ease human suffering.
In short, in what I've coined for the mission, we're preparing in calm to respond in crisis. And it's this phrase that I have focused our mission on.
This mission is about engagement. It's also engagement through the social media network.
I'd like everyone to know that I've made that a priority for this mission, and I hope you'll take the time to engage us through our Facebook site, Twitter, Flickr and our Pacific Partnership 2012 website. And we provided more information for that in our press kits.
With that being said, I'd introduce again Captain Jon Olmsted. He's the commanding officer of the USNS Mercy. He's going to tell you a little about what Mercy brings to the mission, where she came from and what she can do.
CAPTAIN JONATHAN OLMSTED: Good morning. As Mercy's master, I am responsible for the safe operation of the ship, as well as the safety and security of all personnel on board. To help run the ship, I lead a crew of 70 civil service mariners, like myself, employed by Military Sealift Command. Let me say it's a privilege and an honor for Military Sealift Command to be part of such an important mission.
From my personal experience with the 2005 Indonesian tsunami relief, Pacific Partnership 2009 and Operation Tomodachi, just one year ago, I know firsthand what an impact we will have on the local populations we'll visit and in building relationships and a better understanding of how multiple militaries and civilian organizations can work together to overcome the adversity of the natural disaster.
Now some facts about the Mercy:
USNS Mercy is one of two Navy hospital ships. Her sister ship, Comfort, operates out of Baltimore. She is 894 feet long, roughly the length of three football fields, just a couple hundred feet short of an aircraft carrier. Originally built as a commercial oil tanker, Mercy was converted to a hospital ship and delivered to the Navy in 1986. First home-ported in Oakland, California, she shifted berth to San Diego in the late '90s.
Throughout the year Mercy is normally kept in what we call a reduced operating status with a bare skeleton crew to maintain the ship's machinery and hospital equipment. In case of emergency, she can transition to full operating status in just five days. For this mission, we will have two Navy MH-60 helicopters embarked to help move cargo and personnel between the ship and shore. Mercy deploys every other year as part of her deployment cycle and, on even-numbered years, she is the platform of choice for the annual Pacific Partnership mission.
As I mentioned previously, Mercy's crew is comprised of civilian mariners, employed by Military Sealift Command. Civilian mariners are exceptionally experienced and highly skilled seafarers, licensed and credentialed by the Coast Guard as U.S. merchant mariners. We work on ships for a living, often spending our entire careers at sea. Civilian mariners have generous souls and hearts for service, as well as strong dedication to duty. Our crew is very excited about this mission; many of them asked me personally to join Mercy for Pacific Partnership.
Though our primary job is to navigate the ship safely from point A to point B, we are also responsible for keeping the lights on, the water running and the toilets flushing throughout the ship, including the hospital and living spaces. This year's mission is particularly challenging in that Mercy must remain offshore each of the mission countries since there are no sufficient pier facilities where the ship may tie up. So to move doctors, nurses and patients back and forth, we will be operating two 33-foot utility boats, 12 to 16 hours per day, ferrying passengers from ship to shore and back.
Our civilian crew likes to participate in the shore mission as well, and they will be assisting with specialized engineering projects and subject matter exchanges.
This particular mission is unique and requires an advanced level of seamanship, dedication and sensitivity. Our civilian mariners are often the first faces the patients see when they embark the ship and the last ones they see when they depart after a potentially life- changing operation.
We're looking forward to being part of a productive and highly rewarding mission. I'll now turn it back to Commodore Morgan with an overview of the ship's medical treatment facility and her medical capabilities. Thank you.
CAPT. MORGAN : Thanks, Jon.
CAPT. MORGAN: To add a little bit of the history, Mercy evolved from a long line of previous hospital ships back to the American Civil War, is in fact the third hospital ship to bear the name.
Mercy's mission, its primary – is to be an afloat mobile surgical and medical facility that is flexible, capable and uniquely adaptable to support expeditionary warfare, and has proven its capability during multiple deployments, including Operation Desert Shield.
The U.S. hospital ship brings unique capabilities which enable them to deploy for humanitarian disaster response missions. Notable examples: the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 2005 response to Hurricane Katrina and of course the 2004 tsunami that hit Southeast Asia, which, as I've said before, was the beginning of a planning to conduct missions like Pacific Partnership 2012.
MTF Mercy -- that's medical treatment facility aboard Mercy, essentially the hospital on board Mercy -- brings substantial medical mission capability.
These capabilities are on par and compared to any major land-based hospital, both U.S. and overseas. Mercy has one of the largest capabilities to receive and treat trauma. She has a full spectrum of surgical-medical services and is capable of maintaining a blood bank or blood products, up to three -- 3,500 units.
The Pacific Partnership is about people. It's about the capacity they bring, the dedication to the mission, and their hope to make things better. We are sourced from Navy hospitals throughout the world, and the staff includes some of the finest and brightest that Navy medicine has to offer. They are hand-picked, they are volunteers, and they are committed. They are dedicated to the cause of the mission.
They represent the full complement of both medical and surgical specialists: general surgery, ear-nose-and-throat, pediatrics, urology, orthopedics, cardiology, infectious disease specialists, emergency medicine, radiology and anesthesia. Medical partnership and capability of building are what we will bring to Pacific Partnership 2012. We plan to conduct surgeries on the ship. The ship has 12 operating rooms; medical, dental, veterinary capability sites ashore; and most importantly, building relationships through subject -- through subject-matter expert exchanges; through health care professionals with differing backgrounds working side by side; professional symposiums, conferences, exercises and doctor round tables.
This mission is about the people and the people coming from Mercy, but it's also about the local communities we're interacting with and the exchanges that will be provided. Our people are excited to learn as well as to teach. For example, we have physicians who understand the similarities and differences between cultures. We will work with the host nation for future medical providers that form medical, dental and nursing students; will conduct disaster relief symposiums; and for the first time, we expect to conduct a live VTC surgery for instruction purposes.
In closing, I am honored to be part of the leadership team for this mission as the mission commander. I have undaunted faith in the abilities of our people and the utmost respect for the countries we will be visiting and the partner nations that will be joining us. We look forward to the relationships that we have and those that we will continue to build.
I asked for a doctor's quote on how to close this out, and he said the best way to describe it is through the language of medicine and the bonds of new friendship, we will prepare in calm to respond in crisis.
With that, I have completed my statement.
Q: A quick question, Commodore: As far as the mission is concerned, is there any coordination going on with the -- on the Philippine deployment? Is there any coordination going on with the Balikatan exercises that are going on in the south?
CAPT. MORGAN: At this point, there's no connection between the two. So at this point we have our own planning effort that has started back in September. So this is a mission wholly separate from Balikatan.
Q: And a quick follow-up to that: As far as, again, the Philippine deployment, is there any plans to coordinate with any of the ongoing MEDCAPs that the -- that the -- the task forces in the southern Philippines is doing with the population down there?
CAPT. MORGAN: I -- more specific -- if you have a more specific area --
Q: The Joint Special Operations Task Force, southern Philippines --
Q: In Zamboanga.
Q: -- in Zamboanga -- do MEDCAPs amongst some of the population --
CAPT. MORGAN: I think we're still looking at, you know, the possibility of doing that. So at this point, I don't want to speculate too much on that one.
Q: (Off mic.)
CAPT. MORGAN: And -- where are you from? I'm sorry. Where -- what agency are you from?
Q: I'm from the Hill.
CAPT. MORGAN: The Hill? OK.
Q: I'm Ching-Yi Chang with Phoenix TV Hong Kong. And I just noticed, on the partner list there, China and Taiwan were -- are not on the list. So will the Navy invite China to join the Pacific Partner (sic) in the future?
CAPT. MORGAN: You know, as a mission commander, the invitations, the coordination of the host nations and the partners nations is conducted through Pacific Fleet. So I work with the nations that are -- either volunteered through Pacific Fleet or contacted by Pacific Fleet. So again, this mission is about capability-building and so forth. Who participates is coordinated by Pacific Fleet, not with my staff.
Q: OK, and also I know recently the U.S. and Philippines conduct the largest military drill recently, and it's on humanitarian aid and also crisis response. But it also raised a concern in China. But -- so could you talk a little bit about -- because the standoff in South China Sea could bring China and the Philippines -- (inaudible). So do you think this mission might also raise the concern -- (inaudible)?
CAPT. MORGAN: This is a -- this is a mission that's been preplanned for a long time. It's been taking place since 2006. It's regularly scheduled to countries we've visited before, and I don't see any connection between anything that might be going on, and -- it's a preplanned mission, and we're going to do the missions fully separate from that.
CAPT HICKS: Jim.
Q: Yeah. Jim Garamone. I'm with American Forces Press Service. I just got a couple, like, housekeeping questions. You're leaving May 1st. You arrive in your first port of call -- I can't see it -- find it right now -- but in the end of May, I --
CAPT. MORGAN: He's leaving on the 31st of May. I think I know where you're going with this.
Q: Now, are you having -- you know, like, you can't have -- are you having the whole medical crew on your ship from the time you leave San Diego, or are they going to meet you at the various places that you go to?
CAPT. MORGAN: The core deployment of the main body embarks in San Diego, we conduct a port visit in Hawaii and then another one in Guam.
CAPT. MORGAN: OK? So each individual country, each individual NGO, each individual participating nation has an opportunity to either embark us in San Diego, Hawaii or Guam. And on the flip side of the deployment, after we finish in Cambodia, they can debark, you know, in the reverse process.
And there is a -- there is another visit that I didn't talk about. We do get one quality-of-life-maintenance visit for Mercy at Subic Bay from the 2nd through the 6th of July.
Q: That's a place you can actually dock, too, right -- (inaudible)?
CAPT. MORGAN: That is correct. (Laughs.) That is correct.
Q: Now, all of your crew will be there from the time you leave San Diego, correct?
CAPT. OLMSTED: Yes. Mercy has been -- has reached her full operating status, a hundred percent civilian manning, effective Sunday the 15th.
Q: Thank you.
Q: I'm Rob Gentry from TV Asahi. The partner countries' participation, is that participation of the partner countries military personnel or are there NGO and civilians from the partner countries as well?
CAPT. MORGAN: Both. Both.
Q: So the Cambodian version of USAID would meet you there -- (inaudible)?
CAPT. MORGAN: The USAID -- when I did all my senior-leader visits, I visited all four countries and we coordinated with and just sat down and discussed what we would be doing during the mission so that we were synchronized with what the presence in the mission is as far as USAID is concerned. So that is all -- that is part of my senior leadership visit.
And as a bit of background, before we conduct a mission, we send in what we call pre-deployment site survey teams, which actually coordinated with the host government, the host agencies, to discuss medical-dental sites, engineering sites, anything that needed to be coordinated, and that included local NGOs as well.
So the big thing is -- you know, you get 14 days there. So what can you do during 14 days?
Our engineers do great. They fly in early, conduct the mission, and then actually may finish up even after we leave. So, as part of the preparation, the engagement with the host governments, we'd -- it's what happens at Pacific Fleet; it's what happens to the predeployment site surveys; it happens what -- through my senior leaders' visits, and it also -- we deploy an advance echelon, the first one to leave here the last week in April to travel to Indonesia to continue the coordination before Mercy actually gets there. So --
Q: Kristina Wong (ph) from The Washington Times. Just wanted to know what the total cost of this mission is.
CAPT. MORGAN: You know, the cost of the mission is really kind of determined after it's over with. It's budgeted for about $20 million that -- the bottom line here is it's -- that -- the total cost of the mission has to be totaled up once it's over and done with. But that's the one we stand by.
CAPT. HICKS: Rob?
Q: Yeah, I wanted to ask also, the -- I mean, you got these two-week involvements at the four host countries. As you're putting together in general this -- the overall Pacific Partnership '12, the types of activities and the areas where you're trying to build capacity -- over the years of Pacific Partnership, how have you changed that based on what you've learned from the deployments to Haiti and in Operation Tomodachi, in actual relief efforts?
CAPT. MORGAN: I would say that the lessons learned for Pacific Partnership are what we learn from mission to mission, all right? When I was designated as mission commander, back in roughly June or July of last year, we went back and spoke to previous mission commanders, some all the way back to 2007.
As part of the mission, we're required to, you know, gather certain data, measures of effectiveness and so forth like that about how we're conducting the mission. But there are also just some basic lessons learned that can come from one mission to the next. And that's part of the turnover from one Pacific Partnership commander to the next. So I coordinated with DESRON 23, who had the mission last year. I had the -- coordinated with DESRON 21, who had the mission before that. So we take all the lessons learned, plus there is also -- believe it or not, there's a HADR course that is actually taught as part of our training for this mission.
CAPT. MORGAN: Humanitarian assistance/disaster relief. I'm sorry, acronyms again.
So as part of our training, we actually take that course as -- and the staff is required to review lessons learned. Most of the material incorporates things like humanitarian disaster relief from -- all the way back from 2004, as recently as Haiti.
So I hope that answered the question.
CAPT. HICKS: Jim.
Q: Yeah, I'm sorry, just once again sort of a housekeeping thing. You said that you're going to be offshore when you get to these various and sundry places. So does that mean that you're going to set up -- I mean, I can't imagine you're going to bring -- for veterinary service, you're going to bring cattle on over -- out to the Mercy. So obviously, you're going to set up, like, treatment facilities onshore, correct? And you could -- you'll be flying that in or using the boats to do that sort of thing?
CAPT. OLMSTED: We'll be using a combination of boats and helicopters to move cargo, personnel. I don't think we're planning on moving livestock, but -- (laughter) --
CAPT. MORGAN: No, the -- as part of our pre-deployment site survey teams, when they go into the country, they look at various areas which make sense to conduct these veterinary, you know, civil action projects. So we coordinate with the host government, and then we bring the veterinary capacity, with Mercy as part of our crew.
Q: So would the medical -- would most of the medical treatment occur on shore too, so, you know --
CAPT. MORGAN: Yes.
Q: -- and then folks that need advanced-level care would come out to the Mercy, then, correct?
CAPT. MORGAN: That's correct. So we move from veterinary to talking about how we would actually conduct the medical mission. The medical mission -- there's the surgical side, OK? That is somewhat bounded by the 14 days that we're in the mission. We have to screen a patient that can be treated, have the surgery, recovery and then return to their host nation during the course of the mission.
Ashore, as part of the advance echelon team, as part of the team for Mercy that will go ashore, they will set up the sites, prescreen the patients for what is, you know, within the capability of what we brought to the mission as part of the 14-day mission. So there's this -- there's the surgical screening, which is a little more complicated, because it has to be done -- really, no kidding -- in a certain period of time. And then there's the -- what we can do ashore at the various sites that we've set up, whether it's dental, any number of care packages.
Q: And the operating facilities, the surgical facilities on the Mercy are what? Are they comparable to what -- the care you would get at hospital here?
CAPT. MORGAN: Yes, it is, absolutely. There's 12 operating rooms on there, and staff complete --
Q: And you can have all 12 open?
CAPT. MORGAN: We -- will have as -- I don't think they will all be operating, but we will have as many operating as we can source through the capacity of what Mercy has there.
Q: And the -- I'm sorry.
Q: The medical staff -- now you're -- you're Navy people, obviously. There will be Navy doctors there. Will you also get folks from the Army and the Air Force?
CAPT. MORGAN: It's an interagency approach, plus there's some charities, like Latter-day Saints, if they have a certain person who -- willing to volunteer for the mission who is also licensed and credentialed, they could take part in the mission as well.
So again, I keep talking about how the NGOs who participate from mission to mission bring that capacity, as well as the -- you know, the consistency from mission to mission.
That's why we like to have the NGOs participate in it, because they provide something above and beyond what Mercy can provide, both capability-wise and personnel-wise.
Q: And will there be other ships sailing with the Mercy?
CAPT. MORGAN: We have commitments -- there are no other U.S. ships. We have one Japanese ship, the Oosumi I believe the name is.
Q: And can you spell that?
CAPT. MORGAN: I will get you that spelling. (Laughs.)
Q: Great. Thank you.
CAPT. MORGAN: I will get you that spelling. I'm sorry. And she has the capability to LCACs, air-cushion vessels that we could possibly use. So that provides lift in the countries that they would be providing in, as well as the helicopters that we bring as part of our mission.
Q: There's no thing to do like supplies over the shore that -- facilities that U.S. Transportation Command brings, some things where you can actually land and have a -- over the shore and bring supplies -- (inaudible)?
CAPT. MORGAN: Our heavy lift is really the boats as well as our two helicopters, so -- but we take -- we use NALO flights, we use military airlift to move people in and out of countries, specifically our engineers. So again, it's a whole-of-government, across-the- agency support for this mission.
Q: Thank you.
Q: I was wondering if you could talk about the social-media aspect of this mission and if you're conducting any type of outreach to the local population beforehand or during. And who is your audience? Is it us back here or is it folks overseas?
CAPT. MORGAN: I think the best way to answer that is -- it's all yes. I think probably the best way to answer that is an example. When I visited Indonesia, I took part -- before this mission, I wasn't a big media guy. In fact, I didn't even have Facebook. But I got one now. So, that being said, when I was in Indonesia and I visited the embassy, they have an outreach program called “At America,” a world- class studio, a lot like this, which is targeted towards the youth in Indonesia -- connecting with them, talking out, so forth, like that.
The highlight of my mission -- the U.S. Embassy sponsor mission about sitting down, talking about the mission, answering their questions, getting their view of things. And it was really an unbelievable experience.
So I think, in answering your question, we have made this a priority so that we can stay connected, not only back here on the public affairs side of things, but also to the U.S. public, to the military and anybody else who might have an interest in the mission so that we can get to the end of the mission and see, OK, how did we do and what was the overall impression.
CAPT. HICKS: All right. Any further questions? No?
CAPT. MORGAN: All right, well, OK, thank you very much for being here today. I appreciate your time today.
Q: Captain -- (off mic) -- Navy infectious disease place in Jakarta. Are you going to be working with them at all?
CAPT. MORGAN: Sir, I'm going to plead ignorance on that one, but I'm going to -- I've got that one down. (Laughs.) So --
Q: Will you be -- (inaudible)?
CAPT. MORGAN: What? What? (Laughter.)
My public affairs officer says yes, I will be so. (Laughter.)
All right. Thank you, again, very much for being here today.