Admiral Pledges Ongoing Support of Humanitarian Efforts
By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2008 Humanitarian missions will be an important element of U.S. 4th Fleet’s long-term planning efforts, the fleet commander told bloggers and online journalists yesterday.
Navy Rear Adm. Joseph Kernan, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet, pledged his commitment to humanitarian efforts like the recent Continuing Promise 2008, a humanitarian and civic-assistance deployment to the Southern Command area that wrapped up in early December.
“We're going to continue every year … to do an exercise like a Continuing Promise, and also every asset that goes into the region or the theater is going to do Continuing Promise-like activities, whether it's humanitarian, whether it's a construction project or things of that nature,” the admiral said.
The Continuing Promise Caribbean Phase, aboard USS Kearsarge, was the second of two humanitarian and civic assistance deployments to the Southern Command area of focus for 2008. The first Continuing Promise deployment was conducted by USS Boxer to the Pacific.
Kearsarge's mission was to conduct joint civil-military operations, as well as veterinary, medical, dental and civil-engineer support to six partner nations. The goal was to send a message of compassion, support and commitment to Central and South America and the Caribbean, Kernan said.
Throughout the deployment, Kearsage hosted numerous dignitaries, including presidents, prime ministers, U.S. ambassadors and ministers of health and defense.
Kernan said that during Kearsage's deployment the intent was never to invite presidents of countries to witness their efforts, but instead to offer aid wherever needed.
“We went down there in Continuing Promise with no intent. … We didn't invite presidents of countries to visit, but I'll tell you, after [we were] there for about a week, presidents of countries showed up in three different places,” Kernan said.
Although he did not visit the Kearsage, Nicaragua's president, Daniel Ortega, was able to witness for himself through the media what the Continuing Promise mission was about and the work being done to help his people.
"And so in that mind, we turned a leader ... who looked exactly at what we were doing and determined that this is in the best interest of my country and it really is helping my people," Kernan said.
Kernan said what most impressed him during the deployment was the young sailors who unselfishly volunteered their time to help others in need.
“When the youth go in there, 17- to 24-year-olds, hundreds of them ashore, … [it accomplishes] two things,” Kernan said. ”Number one, they can connect to the people, the young generation of that country; and number two, it tells them that these are the types of people that are going to lead America, and this is where their values and their interests are -- and it was unbelievable.”
Kernan continued to witness his sailors’ volunteerism throughout the deployment, particularly following the devastating path of destruction left by tropical storms Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Hurricane Ike. “If you went to Haiti … it would bring a tear to your eye [to see] the hundreds of sailors that volunteered every day to go ashore in the hot sun and carry 110-pound bags,” he said.
On Sept. 12, U.S. 4th Fleet diverted Kearsarge from Santa Marta, Colombia, to assist the U.S. Agency for International Development in recovery efforts. During the diversion to Haiti, Kearsarge transported food, cargo and equipment between Port-au-Prince and Gonaives, Jeremie, Saint Marc, Port de Paix, Jacmel and Les Cayes.
The admiral said that while sailors aboard Kearsarge taught him valuable lessons in humanity, so did nongovernmental organizations such as Operation Smile and Operation Hope that participated in Continuing Promise. Additionally, Brazil, Canada, France, Netherlands and Spain also joined in the humanitarian efforts.
“You've got to be really inclusive of all of the countries, and we invite them on every single mission to come with us and be a part of what we're doing, so the country that we're working in can see that their country is also contributing to the humanitarian efforts,” Kernan said.
(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg works in the New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)