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Royal Navy medics help deliver aid on Pacific mercy mission

26 March 2018
Captain Peter Olive and PO(MA) David Nicholl are visiting the island of Yap as part of a small Royal Navy contingent on a US-led mission of peace to Pacific atolls and the countries of South-east Asia.

The Pacific Partnership 2018 deployment – two American ships, 800 men and women from the US, Britain, Japan and Australia – has begun in earnest in one of the most remote island communities in the world: the Philippines are 800 miles to the west, Papua 750 miles to the south, Japan 1,700 miles to the north and, heading east, the nearest landfall is Costa Rica, over 9,000 miles away.

Over ten days, the military personnel are getting stuck into health, engineering and community projects, intending to help as many of the 11,000 inhabitants of Yap, one of the Federated States of Micronesia.

Each year, the US military sends ships and personnel on a goodwill tour of the Pacific region – the Pacific Partnership deployment grew out of the international response to the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami which devastated swathes of the region and killed hundreds of thousands of people.

In its 13th run out, the mission features hospital ship USNS Mercy (roughly the size of HMS Queen Elizabeth), equipped with facilities you’d expect to find in major infirmary in the UK or US, and the supply/support ship USNS Brunswick – like a fast cat Channel ferry, but in battleship grey.

Capt Olive is in charge of the latter, one of half a dozen British military personnel assigned to the Pacific Partnership 2018, and the first RN officer to command half the deployment.

Joint efforts such as these are what Pacific Partnership is all about; multiple nations coming together to achieve a common goal and to share experiences

Captain Peter Olive RN, Deputy Mission Commander

Having crossed the vast ocean from San Diego, via Pearl Harbor and Guam, the force reached the Ulithi Atoll, 100 miles east of Yap, to deliver medical supplies, provide health care and remember the deeds of sailors 73 years ago.

The tiny island chain – home to fewer than 800 souls – became a major staging post for the US Navy, including the hospital ship USS Mercy, and the British Pacific Fleet during the Okinawa campaign in early 1945 as upwards of 700 ships massed here.

The concentration of shipping drew kamikaze attacks and, once the invasion of the Japanese island began, Ulithi became a major casualty treatment centre.

Seven decades later, the visit of the Pacific Partnership force allowed today’s generation to offer Ulithis the hospitality they afforded them during the war.

“It’s very special to be doing this in a place like the Ulithi Atoll, which has incredible historical significance for the Allies' efforts in the Pacific Theatre during World War 2,” said Capt Olive.

“Joint efforts such as these are what Pacific Partnership is all about; multiple nations coming together to achieve a common goal and to share experiences.”

In Yap, teams have been providing medical, dental and veterinary services, getting stuck into engineering projects, sprucing up community projects and generally joining in activities with locals.

The visitors staged a brass band concert, accompanied by plenty of ‘impressive cultural dancing’ and offered youngsters a ‘soccer’ coaching session (complete with bespoke Pacific Partnership-logoed footballs).

“From medical engagements and construction to community outreach, we’re spread throughout Yap with a singular focus of working together to make a positive impact,” Capt Olive said.

“Not even the occasional downpour has been enough to stop my team from getting out and doing great things, whether through sport or volunteer work.”

Locals have repeatedly joined in the activities and community projects, leaving the visitors with a very warm impression of Yap and its inhabitants.

“We enjoyed a brilliant show from the Pacific Fleet Deep Six Brass Band and you couldn’t tell who was having more fun – my team or the students,” said Capt Olive.

“The people of Yap are amazing and its kids inspiring,” he said.

The task group remains in the island until Easter Monday. Future destinations for the ships include Palau, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

Over the past 12 years, the deployment in its various forms has provided medical care to more than 300,000 patients, veterinary services to nearly 40,000 animals and competed nearly 200 engineering projects.

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