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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The last leg home (sixth ... and final ... in a series)

As I sit down to write this final installment about Pacific Partnership 2010, our steam plant is warming up and we will be departing Pearl Harbor within the hour. The Arizona Memorial rests only a few hundred yards across the channel, and the clear blue waters of the eastern Pacific are now all that stands between me and being home (a journey that will be about a week and three time zones).

Our final mission stop in Timor-Leste was again resoundingly successful, and the country has made remarkable strides forward since I last visited in 2008. There is a large UN presence there, and I was very happy to see the tremendous progress in infrastructure that had occurred in just two years. The streets were safe, the people were taking pride in their communities, and small businesses were thriving. It was a great pleasure to provide medical, dental, and surgical care to the people of Timor-Leste.

As they continue to progress, it is a testament to the success of these humanitarian assistance missions that they still throng to see us, but they require fewer and fewer of us. In addition to our land-based and shipboard work, we spent a great deal of time working with their national hospital system to review budgets, identify critical needs for the future, and map out a regional referral system with the assistance of our Australian colleagues.

Although the country has come a long way, there were still long lines to see the American and Australian doctors and we actually saw more patients this trip than in 2008. It was also nice to go ashore and not have to be escorted around by New Zealanders with large guns as we did in 2008.

We were actually allowed off the ship for some free time this year. There are some great spots for snorkeling and diving on unspoiled reefs. The sea life was abundant and the water was warm and clear.

There were a number of up-and-coming restaurants serving a variety of cuisine. I had the opportunity to attend the Operation Smile end-of-mission dinner with a buffet prepared by an Australian expatriate. It was the most unique buffet line that I have ever been through – everything in the line was meat. There were no side dishes and no vegetables, just sterno-heated foil trays full of meat. It was all delicious and the fare included chicken, lamb, beef, and the owner’s personal recipe for sausage (not really sure I want to know more, but it was good).

Our time in Timor-Leste passed quickly and before we knew it, we were heading for home. We stopped for four days in Guam to let 400 people get off the ship and return to their families and regular jobs. The remainder of us continued to ride Mercy eastward.

The trip from Guam to Hawaii seemed to take an eternity. After 10 days of transit, we saw land again, and made our way to the pier in Pearl Harbor. We finally set foot on U.S. soil after nearly five months, and it was good to be back.

It was a gentle transition back to America, because everywhere I looked, there seemed to be Japanese tourists running around. Our 36 hours in Hawaii were just enough time to get off the ship and enjoy a couple of nice dinners before starting the final leg of the journey home.

As I conclude my journals for this adventure, I wanted to share a few numbers with everyone:

101,662 – number of patients seen during Pacific Partnership 2010
16,000 – approximate number of nautical miles traveled since May 1
14,387 – number of glasses given out to patients
9,254 – number of emails received since May 1
4,723 – number of emails deleted without reading
3,456 – number of emails sent
2,602 – number of animals treated by the vets
817 – number of surgeries performed on Mercy this mission
144 – number of days deployed
60 – number of community service events in host nations
18 – number of major engineering projects completed by Seabees
6 – number of articles of clothing ruined in the ship’s laundry
4 – number of helicopter rides to mission sites
1 – number of boats built and raced in the Darwin Beercan Regatta

**Number of Diet Cokes consumed – too numerous to count

Life experiences, meeting new people, and sharing the ups-and-downs of deployment with good friends – priceless

After nearly 13 months of planning and participating in PP10, this mission is just about over and I’ll go back to my regular job at Naval Medical Center San Diego at then end of September. Thanks to everyone who wrote this summer. I truly appreciated hearing from each and every one of you.

These missions bring together many people from many different backgrounds. I have made many new friends and created lifelong bonds among those who participated in PP10. As the director for surgical services, I learned a lot about leadership, about managing 300 people, and about myself. I’m very proud of the effort that my team put forth, and as we start the last leg home, I’m glad to have left the world a little bit better off than when we started in May.

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

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