By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
Nov. 17, 2006 – Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions give the U.S. military an opportunity to make a lasting impact around the world and promote a positive image of the military, two top Defense Department officials said here yesterday. Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, chief of naval operations, and Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, spoke at the National Press Club about the USNS Mercy's recent deployment to Southeast Asia.
The five-month deployment was a tremendous success, Mullen said. The ship delivered healthcare to the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and East Timor. The ship, and some of the same crew and civilian volunteers, visited some of the same areas as when they provided relief to people affected by the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami off Indonesia and the March 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. Mullen, who visited the ship during its deployment, said it was amazing to see the progress that has been made in those areas since the disasters.
The deployment was a truly joint effort, Mullen said, with U.S. troops from all services and healthcare workers from nine different countries. The ship personnel also worked closely with non-governmental organizations in the area, he said.
Humanitarian missions like this one give the U.S. a chance to make a lasting impact in remote areas of the world, but also benefit the doctors and nurses who come in contact with different cultures, Mullen said.
"Having spoken to so many doctors and nurses and corpsmen and sailors who are involved in this, they tell you it's the best thing they've ever done, because they've seen the kind of impact," he said. "This is about being out and engaged and understanding other peoples as well, and the challenges that they have, and the world that they are living in."
Humanitarian missions like that of the Mercy bring healthcare, partnerships and diplomacy to areas of the world that are often forgotten, Winkenwerder said. The military is uniquely qualified to perform these missions, he pointed out, because it is able to move assets quickly and brings great medical capabilities.
After the earthquake in Pakistan, the military treated more than 100,000 people with its field hospitals, Winkenwerder noted. That care provided a lasting effect on public opinion in Pakistan, as officials there are now asking for increased partnerships with the U.S. military in training and education, he said.
A naval lab that was established after the tsunami in Jakarta, Indonesia, is still operational, Winkenwerder said, and now provides disease surveillance for pandemic influenza.
In every humanitarian mission the military performs, it works closely with other governmental agencies, non-governmental agencies, and international partners, Winkenwerder said. There are many opportunities for all these agencies to work together, produce real results, and give a positive view of the U.S. military to parts of the world that have never seen it, he said.
"Everybody comes out of it feeling good," he said. "The military personnel feel good about what they're doing; the civilians who partner with us feel good; the people we serve appreciate it; we get to know each other. I think we break down barriers, and we solve problems, and we become friends."
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