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Hospital Ship Mercy Deployment/Current Pacific Command Operations

Admiral Gary Roughead, Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet
Washington Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
September 25, 2006

USS Mercy
1:00 P.M. EDT

Real Audio of Briefing

MODERATOR: Good afternoon and welcome to the Foreign Press Center. This afternoon, Admiral Gary Roughead, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet will be briefing on the recent deployment of the U.S.S. Mercy and other issues in his area of operations. And I'm pleased to welcome him back and I would just point out that around the room you have some photographs taken during that deployment which he'll be talking about.

Admiral Roughead, thank you for coming by.

ADM ROUGHEAD: Thank you very much. Well, thank you for the opportunity to join with you this afternoon. As some of you know, I was here last May and told you about what we were going to do with USNS Mercy, a U.S. Navy hospital ship that was to deploy to South and Southeast Asia on a humanitarian assistance mission. And today I've come back to tell you what we did do with USNS Mercy on her mission of service, compassion and commitment.

When I was here before, Mercy had just left on a four-and-a-half month journey to deliver assistance to those in medically underserved areas of the Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh and East Timor. While it was a privilege for the U.S. Navy to lead that mission, it was much more than a U.S. Navy effort. It was, in fact, an interagency and international effort by a very diverse and multi-specialized team that provided a wide range of medical, dental civic action services to the nations which hosted us.

Despite a straightforward objective of helping others, those who join the team possessed a profound array of expertise, capability and talent and each had an important contribution to make to this very unique mission. In all, team Mercy included U.S. Navy sailors and U.S. Navy civil servant civilian mariners, medical professionals of the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Army and, of course, the U.S. Navy, Navy construction battalion personnel, Pacific Fleet band musicians and a detachment of helicopters. They were representatives from the U.S. Public Health Service. There were host nation medical personnel from the Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh and East Timor. There were non-host nation military personnel who sailed on the ship from India, Malaysia, Singapore, Canada and Australia. There were embarked nongovernmental organizations: Project Hope, the Aloha Medical Mission of Hawaii, international relief teams, Operation Smile and the University of California-San Diego Pre-Dental Society. There were NGOs on the ground in the countries where we visited that joined us: ACDI/VOCA, Care, Chittagong Medical College, International Organization for Migration, International Red Cross, Save the Children and Suu Kyi (ph).

Visiting ten locations and four nations, this impressive group of individuals that formed this unique team cared for more than 60,000 patients. In the process, there were tens of thousands of immunizations given, prescriptions filled. Thousands of pairs of eyeglasses were distributed and more than a thousand surgeries were performed. In an effort to ensure that lasting and enhanced capability remained long after the Mercy and her team departed.

The team trained more than 6,000 people in a variety of areas, such as basic life support, biomedical equipment repair and cardiovascular electrocardiogram skills. They conducted hundreds of preventive medical surveys and inspections and repaired hundreds of pieces of biomedical equipment. They gave concerts, they poured concrete to build basketball courts for the communities which we visited, they paved roads, they painted pediatric wards. In school auditoriums they fixed air conditions and rebuilt medical facilities.

The U.S. Navy is not a stranger to providing relief and assistance after a disaster or during crisis and routinely we support the local community during our many port calls throughout the region. We're firmly committed to bringing help and hope to neighbors in need and a long and honorable tradition of rendering assistance on and from the sea. A recent Mercy effort exemplified that commitment and continued that timeless tradition. And neither are the NGOs nor the other nations strangers to such relief and assistance work as recent collaborative efforts have demonstrated, whether it was the Russian submarine rescue off Kamchatka of last summer, the response to the mudslide in Leyte, the earthquake in Pakistan or the relief effort in 2004 following the tsunami in South Asia or even in our own country, relief after Hurricane Katrina. But while similar partnerships among militaries, governments and NGOS have been formed before in such instances, this time it was different because this time the partnership was premeditated and proactive and was not initiated by a natural disaster or famine, but simply by a desire to assist our neighbors.

It was unprecedented in terms of scope and duration of humanitarian assistance in a non-crisis situation. It was also unprecedented in terms of the partnership that was involved.
Hundreds of individuals came together from the governments and militaries of different nations and from nongovernmental organizations and international relief organizations. They built on relationships established in earlier relief efforts, most notably those established in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and they acted together as one, all committed to collective action and employing the great strength of sea power, being able to bring this assistance from the sea.

There's a tendency to quantify what we did in terms of the numbers: how many places we're visited, how many people we cared for and how much equipment we fixed. While the numbers are impressive, the numbers don't reflect the quality of the mission and they don't tell the real story about Mercy. Similarly, while much of our success was attributable to the tremendous capability and the equipment that the participants and that the USNS Mercy brought to the mission, there was something that was much more important. As you can see from the pictures that surround this room, the Mercy mission was really about people, people helping people and people bringing compassion and hope and help to neighbors in need.

When you see Mercy anchored off the coast of whatever location it was, you might think that she floats on the water, but I submit that she is lifted up by the hands of all who came together to provide the selfless support to the many people in the Philippines and Indonesia, Bangladesh and East Timor. That is what Mercy really is all about. It's about sharing and displaying genuine compassion for others for no reason other than to help others and acting on the belief that all are entitled to the opportunity to participate in the successful human endeavor.

As I regularly tell my sailors, it is people committed to savings lives, restoring hope and providing security who enable peace and prosperity. They are the real truth behind sea power. And maritime nations, particularly those in the Asia Pacific, have a unique opportunity to employ the immense potential of cooperative naval power as never before. Rather than focusing on control of the sea by one, naval forces can today focus together on making the oceans stable, safe and free for all. By bringing help and hope that all deserve to friends and neighbors in the region, Mercy did just that and directly contributed to the stability that enables peace and prosperity.

I'm very pleased with all that was accomplished by what someone in the Philippines referred to as the mercy ship. We cared for tens of thousands, enhanced host nation capability to provide medical care and respond to disaster and improved, in no small way, and changed so many lives.

I thank you for the opportunity to join you this afternoon and I look forward to your questions.

MODERATOR: If you have a question, would you raise your hand and state your name and organization and please wait for the mike so we can get it on the transcript.


QUESTION: I was waiting for someone to come up with the question of the Mercy ship, but thanks for giving me the question anyway. My name is Andrei Sitov. I'm with the Russian news agency TASS here and I'm obviously interested in Russia which you have not visited on this trip. But I know that your command, the Pacific fleet, has had a long and very fruitful cooperation with the Far East specifically, including in the humanitarians here. I actually wanted to have a word with you after the briefing about that.

But my questions are about this cooperation, like on the military-to-military level, how do you see that? And Russia, as a whole now, falls under the European command of the U.S. Armed Forces. Do you see that as an impediment for your own contacts with the Russians?

ADM ROUGHEAD: I do not see that as an impediment with our contact with the Russian fleet in the Far East. In fact, we recently have had a visit by our Seventh Fleet Commander to Vladivostok and this past summer we had a very successful exercise with some of your ships that came down to Guam. We exercised both at sea and also on the island of Guam. Much of the exercise was focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. But it was a wonderful opportunity for our navies to come together, to practice procedures that could be used in time of humanitarian assistance.

But most importantly as we come together and do these types of activities, it allows us to develop procedures that perhaps have wider application and ensuring the safety and the security of the oceans in the Asia Pacific region. And it brings our people together in ways that friendships and relationships can be developed that will last well into the future as our young officers and sailors rise through the ranks and ultimately arrive at the more senior positions of leadership.

QUESTION: But how does it work, in terms of working on the sea? I understand that there is some specific -- there are some specific issues related to that work on the sea and you have to clear that with the European Command which is basically --

ADM ROUGHEAD: We -- as you pointed out, the European Command is the lead on military-to-military activities. But between our European Command and our Pacific Command there is very close coordination and there's a very good exchange of information and it is understood within both commands the importance of being able to work together, to take these initiatives and visit locations.

I would also say that we were also very effective in working together last summer when your submarine was trapped on the bottom of Kamchatka. It's the opportunities to practice in a non-crisis situation that allow us to develop the procedures and the tactics and the techniques so that when we do have to come together, whether it's to support one another or other activities that we can do that. And both commands fully understand that.

QUESTION: And if I might -- one last thing.


QUESTION: Absolutely last thing. When I was reading up for this briefing, I found an interesting story. Apparently the Russians have discovered in the La Perouse Strait the legend of World War II for the American submarines, the Wahoo submarine. Are you aware that? Can you confirm that? Do you want to do something about that?

ADM ROUGHEAD: Yes. And I -- the issue deals with the finding of the USS Wahoo, a submarine that sank in World War II. We have received from the Russian Government some information and some documentation and we are very grateful for the work that has been done and the locating that has been done. We have taken that information. We are in the process of looking at that because as you can expect the families of those that perished on that submarine are very interested in a final closure on that loss. So we look forward to continue to work with the Russian Government, with the Russian Navy. We are very grateful for the information that has been provided and we'll continue to work with our counterparts in Russia to bring that loss to a close.

QUESTION: Will you raise it?

ADM ROUGHEAD: It is our policy that we leave the sunken ships in place as a final resting place and we consider that very solemn ground.

MODERATOR: Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you. Donghui Yu with the China Press. How do you evaluate the recent exercise by the United States and China in Hawaii and San Diego? And have you set up the schedule for the next exercise that will be held in China? What's your perspective of the Sino-U.S. military-to-military, especially in navy-to-navy relations? Thank you.

ADM ROUGHEAD: I view the recent exercises that we have had in the vicinity of Hawaii and San Diego as very successful. And I believe that they're a very positive step forward in the navy-to-navy relationship between the PLA Navy and the U.S. Navy. As you may know, the recent exercises were also unique in that for the first time we used some common-agreed communication protocols which is something that both of our navies and our militaries have been working toward for some months in the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement process. So I was very pleased: one, that we were able to develop the communication protocols and; two, to then employ them in a communication exercise and what we call a passing exercise and very basic naval maneuvers. And then we were able to follow that up off of San Diego with a search and rescue exercise which I think has great applicability wherever it may occur in the Asia Pacific region. I look forward to the second of the search and rescue exercises to be conducted in China and the Pacific Fleet is looking forward to being able to participate in that exercise.


QUESTION: Charlie Snyder with the Taipei Times. As you know, the Taiwan Legislative Yuan has still not approved a package of arms sales that the President offered in 2001. And we've been getting sort of mixed feelings, mixed reports on what exactly the United States Government now expects of the Legislative Yuan. I was wondering if you could sort of give me your feeling on what you think that the Legislative Yuan should approve. Should it include the diesel submarines, which some people say are not necessary now and what would you like to see the Taiwan military do to ease your position should you be called on to get involved in a blow-up in the Taiwan Strait?

ADM ROUGHEAD: The defense package that Taiwan pursues is a -- is really the package that they believe is appropriate for Taiwan. The systems that should be focused on are those that enhance the defensive capability of Taiwan.

QUESTION: Again, would -- the United States is still insisting on the three parts of the main package of these submarines, the PC-3s and the PAC-3s or do you think that Taiwan should do something else, spend its money in other ways now?

ADM ROUGHEAD: I believe that what should be invested in are the types of systems that are most effective in providing defensive capability and that is something that I believe Taiwan needs to come to grips with.

MODERATOR: Any other questions?

QUESTION: Takahashi with Jiji Press. During your mission, North Korea conducted missile test in July. Do you have any concern another test by North Korea and do you believe the Pacific Fleet has enough capability to detect or intercept the missiles?

ADM ROUGHEAD: The missile tests that took place and any subsequent missile tests are disruptive, provocative and I believe unhelpful to the peace and stability in the region. I'm very comfortable and confident with the capability that we have, as you know, we've recently deployed our most capable ballistic missile defense ship, the USS Shiloh is now part of our forward deployed naval force. And even though she brings the most capable ballistic missile capability with her, she is much more than a missile defense ship and adds much to our capability in the Western Pacific.

MODERATOR: Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Aya Igarashi from the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan newspaper. I have a follow-up question and how do you describe the cooperation between the U.S. Navy and Japan's Maritime Self-Defenses Forces when the North Korea launched a missile? And do you have -- like, do you see any progress or development compared to the time in 1998 when the North Korea launched its first missile?

ADM ROUGHEAD: The cooperation that exists between the U.S. and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and I'll specifically address the U.S. Navy and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces. That cooperation is very, very good. As you know, we both have Aegis ships which are very, very capable air defense and missile defense systems. Shortly before the North Korean missile launches, the USS Shiloh was in Hawaii at the Pacific Missile Range Facility and had a very successful intercept of a ballistic missile. Part of that test included the Japanese ship Kirishima that performed extraordinarily well. So there is a very close cooperative developmental program underway. But equally important was the information sharing that took place and the ability for our Navy and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force to share information very quickly, very efficiently and very effectively.

So I have seen increased interoperability, increased cooperation, not only in this very important mission of ballistic missile defense, but across all of our naval operations. And I believe that the relationship that exists between the U.S. Navy and Nihon Kaijyo Jieitai (Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force) is as close as I have ever seen it.

MODERATOR: Any other questions? Thank you all for coming.

ADM ROUGHEAD: Thank you.

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