Recently, the Navy announced that the expeditionary fast transport USNS Brunswick (T EPF 6) completed Pacific Partnership 2018 in Thailand. If you're out of the know, you may be asking yourself why this operation is such a big deal. Well, believe it or not, this annual exercise has been going on for a dozen years now and it's an essential part of being ready for the worst.
After the 2004 tsunami ravaged Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and several other neighboring countries in one of history's worst-ever natural disasters, the United States deployed relief ships to provide humanitarian aid. This generated generated a lot of good will among affected nations and their allies. This matters a great deal — when you have a reservoir of good will among a population, you're much less likely to find yourself embroiled in war.
USNS Mercy (T AH 19) taking part in Pacific Partnership 2018.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kelsey L. Adams)
At the time, the United States had a pair of hospital ships, USNS Mercy (T AH 19) and USNS Comfort (T AH 20), that hadn't seen much use. Although these ships are slated for replacement, they still house much more advanced medical facilities than most countries can offer. Those aboard USNS Mercy rendered care for 108,000 patients between 2004 and 2005.
After supplying aid in the wake of a terrible disaster, the Navy began to make annual deployments. The Navy has also used the big-deck amphibious assault ships of the Tarawa and Wasp classes in these deployments.
A Navy corpsman gives a tour of the medical facilities on board USNS Mercy (T AH 19) during Pacific Partnership 2015.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Mayra A. Conde)
During Pacific Partnership, not only does the Navy provide a lot of medical aid, they host disaster relief training exercises with partner nations, like Thailand. As the old saying goes, "you fight like you train." The same can be said of providing disaster relief.
This exercise is not entirely a one-way street, however. During Pacific Partnership, in exchange for advanced training, the Navy gets a lot of knowledge about the terrain and personnel are given the opportunity to build relationships with their local counterparts.
Big-deck amphibious ships, like USS Essex (LHD 2), have also been used in Pacific Partnership deployments.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Adam Brock)
The operation isn't exclusively for governments. Representatives from various non-governmental organizations also take part. These aren't the normal passengers on Navy vessels, and having them aboard allows the Navy to practice operating as part of grand-scale, disaster-relief efforts.
At the end of the day, Pacific Partnership is one of the U.S. Military's greatest chances to practice responding to a disaster. The fact that it generates good will and gets some nice press is just a bonus.