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Friday, May 14, 2010

Out to sea (first in a series)

Read part 5 ...

Read part 4 ...

Read part 3 ...

Read part 2 ...

I'm CDR Trent Douglas 95M, and I'm writing from the Naval Hospital Ship, USNS Mercy, where I serve as the director for surgical services for Pacific Partnership 2010. During the next five months we will visit Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, and East Timor to provide humanitarian assistance in the form of medical, surgical, dental, and veterinary care.

Our Seabees (construction engineers) also will be playing a large part in the mission through construction projects in our host nations. We will get the opportunity to work with partner nation colleagues from Canada, Australia, Singapore, France, Portugal, and Japan. Non-Governmental Organizations such as Operation Smile, Project HOPE, and LDS Charities will also be an integral part of our mission.

We got underway from San Diego on May 1, and the pod of dolphins escorting us out into the Pacific soon gave way to some particularly rough seas. Many of the crew, including myself, were a color green somewhere between broccoli and lima beans. It was an interesting start to the mission and gave us a chance to get our “sea legs” and make sure that everything was securely tied down.

After signing the custody sheet for a few million dollars worth of equipment, there is nothing that gives you more heartburn than watching a $125K operating microscope test the tensile strength of the nylon restraining belt holding it to the wall as the ship lists from side to side.

Fortunately the crew had done a great job securing for sea, and we did not incur any equipment damage. A few brave souls tried to run on the treadmills in one of the ship’s gyms, but soon found out that it was a bad idea--again, no injuries, but a few hard lessons learned.

After three days of being tossed around, the seas smoothed out in time for us to enjoy a nice Mexican meal for Cinco de Mayo. Our supply officer went all-out and we even had a piƱata (no injuries). We spent the next few days organizing our supplies and dividing up the many jobs that keep everyone busy on this floating hospital.

Our first stop was in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii to take on additional personnel and supplies. We were fortunate enough to participate in the Navy tradition of “manning the rails” as we passed by the USS Arizona Memorial. Once we were securely tied up at the pier, I climbed up to the flight deck and was amazed at the scene before me--an unobstructed, elevated view of the Arizona Memorial just a few hundred yards away.

Our 48 hours in Hawaii passed quickly, and we are now back out in the vast open ocean with no land in sight, just the occasional flying fish and a stowaway pigeon that seems to want to ride to Guam with us.

If you would like to follow our progress during the summer, the Mercy has a Pacific Partnership 2010 Facebook page. I will post to EAAvesdropping along the way and will add some pictures as I collect them. Our Internet and phone service, unfortunately, is iffy. Hopefully they will be able to get things smoothed out soon.

-- CDR Trent Douglas 95M, director, surgical services, USNS Mercy

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