Pacific Partnership 2012 – civil service mariner musings aboard hospital ship USNS Mercy: Part III, civil service master Capt. Jonathan Olmsted

Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) departed Naval Station San Diego May 3, beginning Pacific Partnership 2012, a four-and-a-half month humanitarian and civic assistance mission that took medical, dental, veterinary, engineering and civic assistance projects to Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia. Mercy is crewed by 70 civil service mariners, or CIVMARs, working for MSC who operate and navigate the ship while Navy planners and medical personnel plan and execute the mission. Throughout the mission, which concludes in mid-September, a number of CIVMARs, including Capt. Jonathan Olmsted, chronicled their experiences aboard the great, white ship for the Navy’s Pacific Partnership blog. We will post these entries in a multi-part blog series the next few weeks.
 -Compiled by Meghan Patrick, MSC Public Affairs

 Hello friends and fans of USNS Mercy and Pacific Partnership 2012. My name is Capt. Jonathan Olmsted, and I am the ship’s Master. My responsibilities include the safe operation and navigation of the vessel, as well as the safety and security of all personnel onboard. My counterpart, Capt. Tim Hinman, is the Commanding Officer of Mercy’s hospital, and we both work for the PP12 Mission Commander, Capt. Jim Morgan.
To keep the ship running day-to-day, I lead a professional and talented crew of 70 Civilian Mariners (CIVMARs) employed by Military Sealift Command (MSC). MSC operates all of the Navy’s noncombatant ships with CIVMAR crews, including replenishment ships, towing and salvage vessels, special mission ships, and two hospital ships: Mercy and Comfort.My sea career began when I graduated from California Maritime Academy in 1996. Since then, I have served on nineteen ships, and Mercy is my eleventh command as Master. The life of an MSC CIVMAR can be difficult to explain. We’re not in the Navy, but we work with the Navy every day. Some of us wear uniforms, and some do not. While Navy sailors may rotate between sea duty and shore duty, CIVMARs only work on ships, and those ships are usually at sea. MSC is part of the remaining legacy of the heroic Merchant Mariners who helped win World War II by transporting military supplies across the oceans. I am proud to call myself a member of the US Merchant Marine.

Though this is my first time onboard a hospital ship, it’s not my first humanitarian mission. In January 2005, USNS Rainier was one of the first ships to respond to the tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia. We operated near Indonesia for 30 days, flying 12-hour helicopter rescue and relief missions every day, as well as providing fuel and supplies to other Navy ships in the area. I also participated in Pacific Partnership 2009 as Master of USNS Richard E. Byrd, which carried humanitarian civic assistance projects to five nations in the South Pacific. In March 2011, while I was Master of USNS Matthew Perry, we conducted relief operations following the tsunami in Northern Japan. It is easy to say that humanitarian missions are the most rewarding of any operation  I’ve ever done.
MERCY’s CIVMAR crew carries the daily burdens of keeping all the ship’s parts moving, including navigation, steam propulsion, electricity, fresh water, and small boat operations. Our rngineers stay busy keeping up with MERCY’s 1,000-member hospital contingent. The Deck department works long hours operating our two “Band-Aid Boats” which we use to ferry patients and mission personnel between the ship and shore. When Mercy receives patients from shore, the Band-Aid Boat crews are the first ones to greet them onto the ship and the last ones to help them ashore. The MSC Supply department manages logistics and spare parts. We even have our own galley near the stern, with delicious and nutritious meals prepared by professional CIVMAR cooks.
I am incredibly proud of Mercy’s CIVMAR crew and grateful for the hard work they do every day. They are extremely dedicated to the ship and to Pacific Partnership. Many have been here for years and have completed multiple missions. Others are here for the first time and would like to remain. For some, this may be an once-in-a-lifetime experience.
There have been many enjoyable and memorable moments during the mission so far. The most inspiring was when I was allowed to “scrub in” and observe several surgical procedures inside the operating rooms. We saw five operations within a half-hour, four of which involved young children. Watching those kids receive their life-changing surgeries really put the whole mission into perspective and made my own job seem very small. We CIVMARs operate the ship and get her where she needs to go, but the truly amazing work is being done in the hospital and at the mission sites ashore.

Mercy is currently anchored off Calbayog City in Samar province of the Philippines, our second of four mission countries. We recently completed a very complex mission in Northern Sulawesi, Indonesia, which required the ship to transit between four remote locations each day, remaining underway the entire time. Our final mission stops will be in Vinh, Vietnam, and Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Visiting new areas is one of my favorite parts of the job. When it’s all over, I know the entire crew will be ready to return to our families and friends to share stories of our Pacific Partnership adventure!
Read more about MSC’s involvement in this year’s Pacific Partnership mission and past hospital ship deployments:
* CIVMAR morale high aboard Mercy
* MSC a beacon of US compassion (Comfort): Able Seaman reflects on his experience
* Comfort in Continuing Promise photo insert
* Mercy and Pacific Partnership 2010
* Mercy: Pacific Partnership 2010 Cambodia
* Mercy helps repatriate Cambodian antiques in Pacific Partnership 2010
* Comfort delivers help to Haiti
* MSC ship refuels Comfort
* Haiti: Operation Unified Response insert
* Rear Adm. Buzby joins MSC (Comfort is ceremony site)
* Comfort back to Baltimore after humanitarian missions in Latin America and the Caribbean (Continuing Promise 2009)
* Michelle Obama welcomes Comfort home

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