Hospital Ship USNS Mercy Deploying To Asia

Hospital Ship Will Visit Cambodia, Indonesia, The Philippines And Vietnam

The San Diego-based Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy is scheduled to deploy Tuesday for a four-month humanitarian mission to four Asian nations.

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The vessel will visit Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam in the seventh year of a program called Pacific Partnership, according to the Navy.

The goal of the program is to build relationships that will help in the event of a natural disaster.

"A lot of planning and coordination among host and partner nation governments and military, civilian organizations and agencies has gone into getting us to this point," said Capt. James Morgan, the mission commander. "We're ready to deploy and conduct the mission on a theme of 'preparing in calm to respond in crisis.'"

Converted from an oil tanker in the mid 1980s, the Mercy first saw duty in the Persian Gulf War. Following that deployment, it left its berth at Naval Base San Diego.

However, the 2004 tsunami that struck Indonesia prompted the hospital ship to return to the area every year since.

"We see things that we just don't come across here," said Cmdr. Matthew Provencher, an orthopedic surgeon who deployed with the Mercy in 2010. "I visited a leprosy hospital in Vietnam, and I learned how they take care of them. Just an incredible experience."

The Mercy carries about 400 Naval medical personnel, along with civilian crew members with the Maritime Sealift Command. Crew members on the Mercy will provide medical, dental and veterinary care in the host nations and help with civil engineering projects.

"Everyone I've talked to said it's some of the hardest work we'll ever do, but the most rewarding," said Capt. MaryAnne Yonk, the director of nursing who is making her first deployment on the ship.

Pacific Partnership also includes personnel from the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps; U.S. State and Justice departments, Agency for International Development and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

Japan will contribute a landing ship, helicopters, a medical team and representatives from the country's volunteer organizations.

Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Korea, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand will also deploy personnel in support of the mission.

Other organizations scheduled to take part include the UC San Diego Pre-Dental Society, a student-run free dental clinic; Project Hope, which launched the first civilian hospital ship, LDS Charities; and the University of Hawaii.

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