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Pacific Partnership Participants Prepare Nations For Disaster Response

Tatou pulupulu lima fa’atasi e mama ai le avega – "Let us work together to lessen the burden."

Pacific Partnership began in 2006 as a means of improving regional cooperation following the devastating Banda Aceh earthquake and tsunami in December 2004.

“Our partner nations were involved in every layer of command and control.”

“We’ve done it every year since,” says U.S. Navy Capt. Wallace Lovely, commander of Destroyer Squadron Thirty One, who commanded the Pacific Partnership 2013 mission.

Pacific Partnership 2013

A landing craft utility loaded with Pacific Partnership 2013 non-governmental organization (NGO) volunteers and U.S. and partner nation service members departs the well deck of the amphibious dock landing ship USS Pearl Harbor for the mission port of Tonga. Working at the invitation of each host nation, Pacific Partnership is joined by partner nations that include Australia, Canada, Colombia, France, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and New Zealand to strengthen disaster response preparedness around the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tim D. Godbee

“This year has been a “phase shift” year for Pacific Partnership.  First of all, we integrated our partner nations more than we ever have before – we equally shared the mission amongst our partner nations, although the mission lead was still the United States. We had six phases with our host nations – Samoa, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Kiribati (pronounced Kiri-bass), and Solomon Islands,” said Lovely. “Three of those phases were led by partner nations. Australia led Papua New Guinea, and New Zealand led Kiribati and Solomon Islands.”

“Our partner nations were involved in every layer of command and control,” Lovely said.

“It is a large-scale regional operation designed to provide real world help to local people whilst simultaneously building relationships and cooperation between regional partners in order to be ready to deal with a natural disaster or other emergency.”

“The countries we visited were all culturally unique. Yet, they all shared the desire to help themselves and improve their ability to respond to crisis,” said Lovely. “Their eagerness to learn and build on the critical skills discussed during our subject matter expert exchanges was inspiring.”

 

Real World Help

“Pacific Partnership 2013 is a four-month operation spanning six Pacific nations,” said Deputy Mission Commander Capt. Tony Millar, RNZN. “It is a large-scale regional operation designed to provide real world help to local people whilst simultaneously building relationships and cooperation between regional partners in order to be ready to deal with a natural disaster or other emergency.”

Pacific Partnership 2013

The amphibious dock landing ship USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52) is anchored off Majuro atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands during Pacific Partnership 2013, July 13, 2013. The Pearl Harbor proved to be the perfect flagship for Pacific Partnership 2013. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Lowell Whitman

“We are all Pacific peoples who live along and within the infamous ring of fire. We have needed to deal with natural disasters in the past and we will have to do it again,” said Millar.

Six ships from four navies participated in this mission, including USS Pearl Harbor, USNS Matthew Perry; HMNZS Manawanui and HMNZS Canterbury from New Zealand, HMAS Tobruk from Australia; and the Japanese ship JMSDF Yamagiri, who participated in Papua New Guinea.

“We are all Pacific peoples who live along and within the infamous ring of fire. We have needed to deal with natural disasters in the past and we will have to do it again.”

“USS Pearl Harbor was well-suited to perform as flagship for this mission,” said Lovely. “We had the ability to communicate, conduct ship-to-shore movement, and plan for events. The size of the platform enabled us to support a large contingent of the mission in one spot. A challenge was the fact that we didn’t have helicopters until Kiribati when the USNS Matthew Perry joined us. Until that point we had one LCU (landing craft utility) conducting ship-to-shore movement.  So we were looking at a single point of failure. Just having the one LCU made this challenging.”

Embarked personnel aboard diving support vessel HMNZS Manawanui cleared more than 2,100 rounds of unexploded ordnance in the Solomon Islands and the Republic of Kiribati, left behind from the World War II.

Pacific Partnership 2013

A cardboard box containing an unexploded Japanese hand grenade sits on a pile of debris inside an abandoned World War II bunker where Medal of Honor recipient Marine Corps 1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman Jr. died in combat Nov. 22, 1943. Personnel aboard the HMNZS Manawanui helped to clean up unexploded ordnance during Pacific Partnership 2013. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Chris Fowler

“The types of ordnance ranged from basic hand grenades to 1,000-pound bombs,” said Royal New Zealand Navy Lt. Cmdr. Kerry Driver, Manawanui’s commanding officer. “Some were underwater, but most of them were on some of the outlying islands.”

“All performed remarkably well,” said Lovely. “This was a testament to the high-quality and dedicated leaders and their crews.”

“We are all focused on the same thing in this region,” Lovely said. “We are preparing ourselves for humanitarian assistance [and] disaster relief in the event that we have to respond collectively.”

The NGOs that participated included: Project Hope, UCSD Pre-dental Society, LDS Charities, Veterinarians Without Borders, World Vets, University of Hawaii-Manoa, Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System (PacIOOS), Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. “The relationship between the Navy, NGOs, and host nations was one of true partnership where we were able to help each other learn new things and grow personally and professionally. The NGOs get the feeling of satisfaction and pride in sharing their knowledge and skills with people throughout Oceania,” Lovely said.  “Additionally, they are able to share this adventure with our sailors.”

“We are all focused on the same thing in this region,” Lovely said. “We are preparing ourselves for humanitarian assistance [and] disaster relief in the event that we have to respond collectively.”

Pacific Partnership 2013

A French Armée de Terre SA 380 Puma helicopter prepares to land on a runway to drop off U.S., New Zealand and Australian service members and supplies for an engineering civic action project during Pacific Partnership 2013, July 30, 2013. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Carlos M. Vazquez II

“Practice makes perfect,” said Kazuchika Hamuro, Japan’s ambassador to the Kingdom of Tonga. “This exercise makes members/teams from different countries and different backgrounds work together as a team. Such experiences would help us to work effectively, especially in complex emergency situations.”

American Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa David Huebner summed up Pacific Partnership 2013 with a Samoan proverb: “Tatou pulupulu lima fa’atasi e mama ai le avega: Let us work together to lessen the burden.”

 

Truth Oar Dare

In Samoa, the American sailors challenged Samoa’s national hero, Zita Martel, the only female longboat captain in the Pacific.

In Samoa, the American sailors challenged Samoa’s national hero, Zita Martel, the only female longboat captain in the Pacific. “The Samoan longboat is a boat with about 50 rowers, and their national team is the Pacific champion,” said Lovely.

“For the first time in the history of traditional longboat racing, the United States of America has issued a challenge to a boat from the independent state of Samoa,” said Martel. “In the spirit of Pacific Partnership, I accepted the challenge from Commodore Wallace Lovely issued to me and my team.”

Pacific Partnership 2013

Pacific Partnership 2013 sailors, partner nation service members, and non-governmental organization (NGO) volunteers row a Samoan long boat during a friendly race as part of a cultural exchange, June 8, 2013. Pacific Partnership is based on common goals that benefit the maritime security of participating nations, including the United States, by increasing regional stability leading to peace and prosperity. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tim D. Godbee

“We got a team together, and when we arrived at Apia, we had a little orientation and a practice run,” said Lovely.

Martel and her Don Bosco Long Boat Rowing Team indoctrinated Pacific Partnership’s long boat team on basic rowing techniques before the race.

“This was a true trial by fire event as none of us had ever participated in an authentic longboat race before the one practice session held the day before the event.”

“It was a lot of fun. Most of us could have benefited from having one or two more practices on the water because we weren’t always in sync, but we were willing to do our best and I really enjoyed it.” said Canadian Army Maj. Sophie Toupine. “It was a wonderful way to see the partnership that we promote with Pacific Partnership 2013. The population was enjoying it as much as we were. It’s a perfect example of what this mission is about.”

“This was a true trial by fire event as none of us had ever participated in an authentic longboat race before the one practice session held the day before the event,” said Lovely.

Pacific Partnership 2013

Pacific Partnership 2013 sailors, partner nation service members and non-governmental organization volunteers high five Samoan children after a friendly race against the Samoan Don Bosco Long Boat Rowing Team as part of a cultural exchange, June 8, 2013. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tim D. Godbee

The entire community of Apia came out to watch the race at Vaiusu Bay. “The crowd was amazing. They were proud of their team, but also happy to see us competing in one of their cherished cultural events,” said Lovely. “The sailors absolutely loved the experience and ability to bond with this community in a meaningful way.”

The  entire community of Apia came out to watch the race at Vaiusu Bay.

As expected, the Pacific Partnership team lost. “But it was that moment where we really connected with that country,” said Lovely.

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Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...