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Pacific Partnership Crew Monitors Philippine Earthquake Situation

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 31, 2012 – Steaming toward its home port of San Diego after the four-month Pacific Partnership 2012 mission, the crew aboard USNS Mercy is watching the situation in the Philippines, where a 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck today, and is ready to respond, if called on, its mission commander reported.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Philippine army personnel lift a stretcher into an emergency vehicle during a joint emergency training exercise at North Western Samar State University June 27, 2012. The exercise was designed to better prepare U.S. and Philippine search and rescues teams to deal with mass casualty situations following a disaster. Now in its seventh year, Pacific Partnership is an annual U.S. Pacific Fleet humanitarian and civic assistance mission designed to work with host and partner nations, nongovernmental organizations and international agencies to build partnerships and a collective ability to respond to natural disasters. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer Second Class Roadell Hickman

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Meanwhile, Navy Capt. James Morgan expressed confidence that disaster-relief training between the Pacific Partnership crew and the Philippine government and military during Mercy’s visit there will pay off there in improved response capabilities.

The multinational military and civilian nongovernmental organization-affiliated crew spent two weeks in the Philippines, one of four countries it visited during Pacific Partnership, providing medical and dental services, civil engineering, veterinary support and other civic action programs, Morgan told American Forces Press Service.

More than 1,200 crew members focused their efforts on the eastern Philippine island of Samar, near the epicenter of today’s earthquake.

In addition to medical and dental engagements, surgeries, veterinary support and engineering projects, the crew conducted subject-matter exchanges on issues related to disaster response. These, Morgan said, included disaster-response planning, medical evacuation training, medical relief and engineer projects to promote disaster-response readiness.

The benefit of these exchanges, Morgan said, go far beyond the immediate impact of enhanced medical care offered during Pacific Partnership.

“Over the long term, I think those exchanges are really the heart of the matter,” he said. “They are what provide the long-term capacity-building within the government and in the medical community there -- to build up the capacity over the long term to improve health care overall.”

Morgan also is keeping a close watch on developments in the Philippines, recognizing that Mercy could be directed to provide response.

“We are always standing by to respond,” he said. “I don’t speculate on how we could be tasked, but we are certainly standing by, ready to react to anything … we are asked to do. If somebody needs us, we will be ready.”

Many of the crew members returned to their duty stations as Mercy departed its last mission in Cambodia Aug. 11, and others left the ship during its recent stop in Guam. However, about 500 crewmembers -- about half the number at the mission peak -- remain aboard.

U.S. Pacific Command, working through the U.S. Pacific fleet, launched the Pacific Partnership initiative in 2006 after a devastating tsunami struck the region in December 2004. The annual mission focuses on reinforcing relationships formed through the tsunami response and laying groundwork to ensure future preparedness.

Through a variety of humanitarian and civic assistance projects, Pacific Partnership provides a framework for the United States to work collaboratively with its international, interagency and non-governmental partners to conduct an effective humanitarian assistance and disaster response, Morgan said.

Mercy left San Diego May 3 to begin the seventh Pacific Partnership mission, visiting Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Cambodia. The crew is expected to return to its home port by mid-September.

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