After a floating hospital known as USNS Mercy steams away from ports across Southeast Asia, the ship's presence will live on in the host countries it helped along the way.
The ship is about halfway through a four-month humanitarian mission that, once complete, will have taken the crew to the Philippines, Vietnam, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea and the Federated States of Micronesia.
Mercy now is wrapping up a 10-day stay in Vietnam, where Navy Capt. Bill Kearns, commander of the Mercy Pacific Partnership mission, and Navy Vice Adm. Doug Crowder, the U.S. 7th Fleet commander, today held a news conference via video teleconference with Pentagon reporters.
"The lasting impact," Kearns said, "is in the people-to-people exchanges that we've had -- the interaction with the people of the port where we're operating.
"I believe that the infrastructure improvements that we're making at the clinics will have a lasting effect," he continued, "or at the orphanages or at the children's rehabilitation center."
Prior to helping the Vietnamese, the Mercy spent two weeks providing aid to the Philippines, where the official death toll from the June 21 Typhoon Fengshen stands at 163, with about 800 more missing after a ferry capsized off Sibyauan. The typhoon also damaged more than 600,000 acres of farmland.
Medical personnel and other crewmembers aboard the ship already have seen tens of thousands of patients, performed hundreds of surgeries, and also have trained doctors and nurses, and assisted in rebuilding infrastructure.
In addition to training local medical practitioners, the crew of Mercy is helping to repair hospital equipment in host nations, the captain said.
"We have biomedical equipment technicians in hospitals conducting repairs of equipment that might just be sitting in a pile, broken," Kearns said. "And so they're able to restore them to operation, and it increases the capacity of that local hospital or clinic."
The crew's composition -- with representatives from more than 50 nations aboard -- is an example of effective multilateralism, as U.S. personnel operate alongside their counterparts from Australia, Canada, India, South Korea and Singapore, to name a few.
Crowder said that the Mercy's Pacific Partnership mission also is a cornerstone of the Defense Department's overall maritime strategy.
"Building relationships and trust, understanding each other, these are the underpinnings to ensuring security and stability in Asia-Pacific," he said. "That's why this mission is so very important."
Echoing Crowder, Kearns highlighted the importance of partnership in humanitarian assistance.
"That partnership really pays off when the disaster occurs and we need to come together and we need to understand each other, so that we can get the job done and help people," he said.
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service