U.S. Navy Ship Mercy Heading Home After Five-Month Aid Mission

By Peggy B. Hu
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - After a five-month mission to provide medical care and training, civil engineering assistance and other humanitarian aid in South and Southeast Asia, the USNS Mercy is heading back to its homeport in San Diego.

During its visits to the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia and East Timor from May to August, the crew of the hospital ship - assisted by personnel from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and allied militaries - treated almost 200,000 patients and provided training for local medical professionals.

The current mission included a small team of sailors from the Naval Construction Force (Seabees) that made repairs or improvements to medical centers, schools and other infrastructure in the four countries the Mercy visited.

While in the Philippines, the Mercy also deployed a small team to provide assistance to victims of the May 27 earthquake in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. (See related article.)

Mercy's medical crew can provide a wide variety of services including optometry screenings, eyewear distribution, physical therapy, radiological and laboratory services, dermatology, urology, obstetrics and gynecology, general surgery, plastic surgery, basic medical evaluation and treatment, dental screenings and treatment, immunizations, public health training and assessment, vector control (monitoring animals and insects that spread disease) and veterinary services.

One of the unique aspects of the mission was the partnership between military and civilian organizations.

The civilian organizations working aboard Mercy during the mission included Project HOPE, Operation Smile, Aloha Medical Mission, the Tzu Chi Foundation, the UCSD Pre-Dental Society and a number of host-nation NGOs. Mercy's military medical team consisted of U.S. Navy, Air Force and Army members along with foreign military medical personnel from Canada, India, Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh and the Philippines, according to the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

"[W]e have achieved a high level of interoperability with the NGOs and allied militaries," said Captain Bradley Martin, Mercy's mission commander. "We've gotten a lot done, and I hope to foster and continue relationships with all these countries and their people."


The Mercy's civil service mariners (CIVMARs), who operate and navigate the ship and two boats used to ferry patients and cargo between the ship and shore, also participated in their own humanitarian project during the mission.

After noting that many of the children receiving treatment from the Mercy's medical staff lacked shoes, nine CIVMARs pooled their own funds to purchase 150 pairs, which they distributed to children in Indonesia and East Timor.

"We set-up near the pier rather than at the hospital because this way Mercy is touching even more people," Michael Keller, the Mercy's chief mate, said in a U.S. Pacific Fleet press release. "The patients at the hospital are already being helped, and we want this mission to bring joy to as many people as possible."

The Mercy, one of two hospital ships in the U.S. Navy, last was deployed to Southeast Asia in the aftermath of the December 2004 earthquake and tsunami. (See related article.)

For more information on U.S. aid, see Partnership for a Better Life and Humanitarian Assistance and Refugees.

More information on the Mercy's mission is available at the U.S. Pacific Fleet's Web site.