Tuesday was a particular highlight this week because I was able to spend the full day on Auckland’s North Shore at Devonport Naval Base, the home of the Royal New Zealand Navy. I toured the facilities, visited the worldclass Sea Safety Training Squadron, and watched the impressive bridge simulators in action. I was also lucky to see HMNZS Canterbury return to port from its month-long Pacific Partnership deployment.

HMNZS Canterbury.

HMNZS Canterbury at Pacific Partnership.

Pacific Partnership is an annual humanitarian mission led by the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet. Inspired in part by the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, Pacific Partnership is intended to ensure that the United States and other nations are better coordinated to respond to future disasters in the Pacific region.

At stops along its route, Pacific Partnership trains local forces in disaster relief, works with local and international relief organizations on emergency response plans, and provides medical care and construction aid to local communities. The past five missions have served 300,000 patients in 13 countries and participated in 130 engineering projects.

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Elizabeth Brown passes a Tongan baby to Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Andrew Campanano at the Tuanekivale medical site for Pacific Partnership 2011. Pacific Partnership 2011 is a humanitarian assistance initiative, which promotes cooperation throughout the Pacific. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Tony Tolley) Please click through for image source.

US Army 1st Lt. Elizabeth Brown hands a Tongan baby to Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Andrew Campanano during the Tuanekivale medical stop.

This year Pacific Partnership will make stops in Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, and the Federated States of Micronesia. USS Cleveland will be joined along the way by ships from Australia and Japan, a helicopter crew from France, and specialized teams from Canada, Singapore, and Spain.

Also joining Pacific Partnership, for the first time, was a Royal New Zealand Navy ship, HMNZS Canterbury. Canterbury met Cleveland in Tonga and participated in humanitarian aid and disaster relief activities in Tonga and Vanuatu, working alongside American, Australian, French, Tongan, and ni-Vanuatu partners.

USS CLEVELAND foreground, HMNZS CANTERBURY background. Click through for image source.

USS Cleveland and HMNZS Canterbury.

In another first, my friend US Commodore Jesse Wilson transferred his command from Cleveland to Canterbury, and led the Vanuatu portion of Pacific Partnership from onboard Canterbury. Certain other personnel and sailors also traded places between the two ships and carried out a number of humanitarian interoperability exercises.

The reports that I’ve gotten from my Kiwi and American friends have been unanimous in praising the warmth, ease, and impact of the collaboration. And I know that a lot of value was added in Tonga and Vanuatu because of how well we worked together during the mission.

New Zealand Sailors perform the Haka in honor of Destroyer Squadron 23 (DESRON 23) aboard HMNZS Canterbury (L-421) as the DESRON prepares to move the Destroyer Squadron 23 pennant from the Canterbury back to The amphibious transport dock ship USS Cleveland (LPD 7) in the port of Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu where during Pacific Partnership 2011. Pacific Partnership is a five-month humanitarian assistance initiative that completed its mission in Tonga, is in Vanuatu, and will visit Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, and the Federated States of Micronesia. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eli J. Medellin). Please click through for image source.

Kiwi sailors perform the Haka aboard HMNZS Canterbury in honor of Destroyer Squadron 23 (DESRON 23) as DESRON prepares to move back to USS Cleveland at the conclusion of the Vanuatu phase of the mission.

The Wellington Declaration signed by Minister McCully and Secretary Clinton last November committed our two countries to a variety of shared goals, including accelerating practical cooperation in the Pacific region. Pacific Partnership 2011 is one of the significant, tangible steps already being taken to bring the Wellington Declaration commitments fully to life. With many more to come.

I am a great admirer of Pacific Partnership. It fosters mutual understanding and respect by providing the means for people of various nations to work shoulder-to-shoulder on essential, practical tasks. It brings people together to help other people. Everyone involved both teaches and learns. The result is that everyone is better prepared to deal with challenges in the future.

United States Marines and local ni-Vanuatu children gather around a seven ton truck at a medical assistance project for Pacific Partnership 2011. Pacific Partnership is a five-month humanitarian assistance initiative that will make port visits to Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, and the Federated States of Micronesia. (Photo By Kristopher Radder).  Please click through for image source.

US Marines and local ni-Vanuatu children at a medical assistance project during Pacific Partnership 2011.

I’m delighted that Canterbury participated in Pacific Partnership this year. Kiwi medical officers have served with distinction in prior Pacific Partnership missions aboard US ships. However, the lessons learned from having ships and full crews work together in disaster relief and humanitarian exercises are invaluable.

If you would like to follow the rest of the mission, please check out Pacific Partnership’s blog and/or Facebook page. I’ve been enjoying both since Cleveland set sail from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on April 5th.