by Sarah Burford
U.S. Navy Military Sealift Command Pacific
September 12, 2018
The U.S. Navy Military Sealift Command (MSC) hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) conducted a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) exercise on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam during July 2018, as part of MSC’s ongoing participation with the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise.
This year marks the second time Mercy has participated in a HADR at RIMPAC. In early exercises that featured a HADR piece, operations were carried out in a conference room, in a tabletop scenario. Mercy’s physical presence in Hawaii at RIMPAC provides a unique opportunity to get the HADR aspect of the exercise off the table top and into a real-world scenario.
The HADR scenario featured the fictional nation of Griffon and the national disaster situation found in the aftermath of a 7.1 earthquake and a follow-on tsunami. Victims of the disaster were brought to a field treatment area for assessment and triage. Many of these patients were then transported to Mercy either by U.S. Coast Guard helicopter or by small boats from the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (WMSL 750) and Japanese Maritime Defense Force destroyer helicopter ship JS Isi (DDH 182). Once onboard, the military treatment facility (MTF) conducted assessment and treatment protocols that included chemical decontamination and orthopedic injuries.
According to Capt. Brian Mershon, Mercy’s civil service master, while the MTF tested its skills, Mercy’s civil service mariner crew played a major role in the exercise, delivering the ship to the exercise area, conducting flight and small boat operations, all that ensured patients made it safely to the ship for medical care. In addition, the approximately 70 civil service mariners who crew the ship, navigated, conducted ship handling and technical maneuvering while underway, provided the fresh water and electricity needed to run the shipboard hospital and to support the mission personnel living and working aboard.
“It’s really special to be a part of something like RIMPAC,” said Mershon, Mercy’s civil service master. “This is a one every two-years exercise and it’s exciting for all of us to be a part of it and to show off this awesome capability to other nations in a controlled environment like this, instead of in a time of national disaster.”
For civil service mariner Julie Flaherty, Mercy’s navigator, the excitement of RIMPAC for he came during the pre-sail planning conference onboard the Japanese ship.
“It was really interesting to be over on the Japanese ship and talking with some of the people from the other nations participating in RIMPAC, and hearing how they do business,” Flaherty explained. “We also got to tour some of the other Navy’s ships. We see a lot of countries on our Pacific Partnership missions, but we don’t get to tour other navies ships, so this was pretty exciting.”
RIMPAC is the final stop in Mercy’s five-month humanitarian and civic assistance mission Pacific Partnership 2018 deployment. During the deployment, Mercy visited countries in the Pacific area of responsibility including the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Vietnam. Mercy and the MSC’s expeditionary Fast Transport ship USNS Millinocket (EPF 4), conducted humanitarian and civic assistance operations with and through partner nations, non-governmental organizations and other U.S. and international government agencies.
“This has been one of those deployments I will never forget,” said Flaherty. “Pacific Partnership touches so many lives, not just the people who receive our services, but also the crew who interact with and see the people who the mission helps, and who’s mission on the ship ensures the medical teams can provide surgeries and care. It has been an amazing five months, and while I am sorry to see all our good work come to an end, I am also looking forward to getting back to San Diego and home.”
Twenty-five nations, 46 surface ships, five submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in the biennial RIMPAC exercise in 2018 from June 27 to August 2.
This year's exercise includes forces from Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, the Republic of Korea, the Republic of the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tonga, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam.
As the world's largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity designed to foster and sustain cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world's interconnected oceans. RIMPAC 2018 is the 26th exercise in the series that began in 1971.