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Mercy mission for British medics on major US-led Pacific peace deployment

7 March 2018
A team of British military medics have joined a US hospital ship to deliver health care and aid to Asian and Pacific nations.

Mercy mission for British medics on major US-led Pacific peace deploymentFor the next few months, the USNS Mercy – roughly the size of Britain’s biggest warship, HMS Queen Elizabeth – spearheads the Pacific Partnership deployment, an annual tour of the Pacific of an international team of military medical personnel, led by the Americans.

It’s only the second time Brits have taken part in the deployment. Back in 2016, five RN dental personnel spent five weeks treating the mouths of Vietnamese and inhabitants of the Republic of Palau.

Two years down the line and not only is the UK involved in the mission, it’s in charge of half of it.

Peter Olive, who’s previously commanded frigate HMS Argyll and minehunter Ledbury, is the deputy commander of Pacific Partnership – the first time in its 13-year history that a Brit has been given the role.

Captain Olive will take charge of the other ship assigned to the deployment, the fast-cat ferry USNS Fall River.

Our team has been drawn from across US defence, partner militaries and civilian agencies – they’re all great people who I am very honoured to be working with

Captain Peter Olive RN, deputy commander of Pacific Partnership 2018

The Mercy is a converted oil tanker, typically crewed by 70 civilian and military personnel – rising to nearly 1,300 souls on front-line operations.

The San Diego-based vessel has beds for 1,000 patients – making her the fifth largest hospital in California, or equivalent to Derriford in Plymouth – with all the facilities you’d expect to find in a major city hospital.

And the USNS Fall River is a large grey catamaran, normally used to transport more than 300 troops or marines, but for the sake of this exercise, home to an international mix of medics.

When she breaks off from the Mercy, she’ll visit Yap, 1,700 miles south of Japan and 700 east of the Philippines, as well as Palau, Malaysia, and Thailand, while the hospital ship will continue on to Indonesia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

Mercy mission for British medics on major US-led Pacific peace deploymentCapt Olive sailed with the Mercy to Pearl Harbor on the first leg of the deployment – a “really impressive” experience with a “buzzing” ship’s company.

“Our team has been drawn from across US defence, partner militaries and civilian agencies – they’re all great people who I am very honoured to be working with,” he said.

Indeed, more than 800 military and civilian personnel from the United States, Canada, UK, Australia, France, Peru, and Japan are committed to the deployment, intended to test the ability of the participants to respond to a major disaster such well as fostering good relations in general with the countries visited.

It was the terrible 2004 Boxing Day tsunami which killed hundreds of thousands of people and caused devastation and disruption across a vast area which prompted the first Pacific Partnership.

More than a dozen years later, the mission’s director, Rear Admiral Don Gabrielson, says the deployment is just as valid today.

“The challenges we face with natural and man-made disasters do not respect borders or national sovereignty,” he explained.

“This dynamic mission enables many nations and subject matter experts to come together to pursue solutions to complex problems while enhancing preparations for disaster emergencies that reduce the severity of their impact.”

Mercy spent three days in Pearl before beginning the 4,000-mile journey west to Guam where the Fall River joins the deployment.

“Being a part of the Pacific Partnership mission is really an amazing experience,” said Barron Garvey, Mercy’s cargo officer.

“What we do touches so many lives and you can’t walk away from this deployment without having been impacted by the people we help and the experiences of the mission.

“People always talk about making a difference, but this is where that really happens. I think about the other Pacific Partnership missions I have been on, and I look forward to the next one.”

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