PATRICK M. KEARNEY / U.S. NAVY
Aviation Ordnanceman 3rd Class Ashley Cameron blows soap bubbles for a local child while assisting with a medical civic action program held at Delap High School in the Marshall Islands. The USS Peleliu visited the Republic of the Marshall Islands as part of its "Pacific Partnership" mission, a four-month humanitarian assistance mission in Southeast Asia and the Pacific basin.
Mission changes lives
The USS Peleliu's medical trip alters patients and doctors
For 120 days this summer, the U.S. Navy took teams of medical specialists to five Pacific basin countries, aiding more than 31,000 patients.
This was the second year for what the Navy is calling "Pacific Partnership" humanitarian assistance missions. It also was the first time that the Pentagon used a warship -- the helicopter carrier USS Peleliu -- instead of a hospital vessel.
Last year, it was the Navy's larger hospital ship USNS Mercy, which has one of the largest trauma centers in the United States, that carried 300 military and civilian health care providers who provided both medical and dental care.
The Navy's helicopter carrier -- USS Peleliu -- served as the platform from which medical missions were launched this summer. More than 1,400 military and civilian people participated in the deployment which began in June. Navy Seabees were involved in repair and construction projects at various Pacific basin medical and community facilities.
Last year between May and September, military and civilian doctors and nurses on the Mercy treated nearly 200,000 people, performed 1,000 surgeries, trained 6,000 people and issued 16,000 pairs of eyeglasses. This year, Peleliu's medical teams treated 31,684 patients, performed 290 surgeries and issued 10,171 pairs of glasses.
Capt. Scott Flinn, who normally serves as the Naval Surface Forces surgeon, commanded this year's medical mission.
GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
U.S. Navy Capt. Scott Flinn was mission commander for this year's "Pacific Partnership" humanitarian effort.
During Peleliu's brief layover at Pearl Harbor last week, Flinn said that one of the most rewarding surgeries performed by military doctors and those from the Aloha Medical Mission of Hawaii occurred in the Philippines and involved a 3-year-old boy whose parents didn't have money to pay for colostomy bags for the child. Instead they had to constantly change the gauze on their son's stomach.
The boy's intestines had been taken out of his body three years ago during the first part of what was supposed to be a two-part surgery. But the second part of the surgery was never done.
Doctors this summer were finally able to rejoin the intestines.
"We fixed his belly up," Flinn said. "The wound healed greatly and six days later he was running around like a normal kid. You talk about a life-changing event. That was it."
Besides the Philippines, the Peleliu visited Vietnam, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and the Republic of the Marshall Islands providing a variety of medical, dental, educational and preventive medical services.
Besides professionals from the Aloha Medical Mission, other civilians on the mission were from Project Hope and the University of California at San Diego Pre-Dental Society.
They were joined by a large contingent of medical specialists from the militaries of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, Papua New Guinea, Japan, India, South Korea and Vietnam.
Pearl Harbor was the last stop on Peleliu's voyage to its home port in San Diego. It left Hawaii yesterday after a three-day visit.
STAR-BULLETIN / JUNE 2007
With Marines on its bow, the USS Peleliu prepares to depart Pearl Harbor.
Based on the Mercy's Pacific mission last year, Flinn said, the medical teams stayed about five days longer in each country, averaging 10 days.
"This allowed us to do more surgeries," Flinn said, "and to go about and do more engineering projects."
Flinn, whose medical specialty is family and sports medicine, said at times there were as many as 400 people from the ship ashore every day the Peleliu was in port.
One of the most impressive port visits was to Da Nang in Vietnam, Flinn said, noting that given the U.S. history with the Southeast Asian country, it was a sight to see a helicopter carrier anchored a mile offshore.
"At first the people there were a little hesitant. As the interaction got better each day, the people were happy to see us and they were gracious."
By the time the Vietnam visit ended, Flinn said, "we had a Vietnam doctor working on a U.S. Navy warship."
These humanitarian missions, Flinn said, help the Navy and nongovernmental agencies be better prepared for large-scale disasters.
Flinn said the Navy also wanted to see whether the Pacific host nations would accept services offered by a warship, like the Peleliu, rather than a recognizable hospital vessel like the Mercy.
"The answer was absolutely," Flinn said, "even in Vietnam."
The Peleliu's basic mission is to transfer 1,500 Marines any place in the world. Once it returns to San Diego, the crew will begin preparing for a wartime deployment to the Persian Gulf next year. The Mercy is one of two Navy hospital ships operated by Military Sealift Command. The other is the USNS Comfort.
» Propulsion: Two boilers, two geared steam turbines, two shafts, 70,000 total shaft horsepower.
» Length: 820 feet
» Beam: 106 feet
» Displacement: 39,400 tons full load.
» Speed: 24 knots (27.6 mph).
» Crew: 82 officers, 882 enlisted
Marine Detachment 1,900 plus.
» Aircraft: 12 CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters; 4 CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopters; 6 AV-8B Harrier attack aircraft; 3 UH-1N Huey helicopters; 4 AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters.
Source: U.S. Navy
2007 Pacific Partnership mission
» Medical personnel involved: 1,429
» Total patients served: 31,684
» Operating cases: 290
» Veterinary services: 2,645
» Engineering projects: 42
Source: U.S. Navy