Pacific Partnership 2012 – civil service mariner musings aboard hospital ship USNS Mercy

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 Third Assistant Engineer Spencer Pierce, 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

“Homeward Bound,” by Spencer Pierce, Third Assistant Engineer aboard USNS Mercy

‘Homeward bound’, as tattooed on many a sailor; the return voyage to what awaits east with every morning sunrise. Truer words cannot be spoken for many onboard PP12. They look ahead and maybe see home in the distance, less than a month away.  As for myself, bow to stern… San Diego to Vietnam… the floating hospital we call Mercy is home. Quite literally, ever since I checked onboard in April 2008 I have yet to ‘live’ anywhere else.  When it comes time for one last Mercy photo, a farewell handshake, and a final Pacific Partnership salute walks the gangway; I stay behind. The mission is over, wards are empty, berthing areas are stagnant, the galley shuts down… and I carry my groceries down the pier, up the gangway, and aft through 900 feet of empty passageway.

My name is Spencer Pierce and I am one of approximately 15 MSC  mariners who stay attached to ship while she is tied up to Pier 1 in San Diego. In the civilian mariner world, we are not obligated to stay with any one ship for more than 4 months, but I do. As fate may have it, opportunity presented itself to become part of the Mercy crew, of which has been nothing less than a great time over the past 4 years.  Where else can your job be walking distance from your bed, and every 18 months your back porch view changes from a Coronado silhouette to the volcanic islands of Southeast Asia?  It’s like a summer RV trip to the Discovery Channel, all while being paid to sit back and enjoy the best sunsets and brightest stars. Of course… sometimes as a mariner we may have times where it’s, more like the last night in Vegas with a pocket full of chips to cash. In either case, what a life; complimentary to both work and play and sometimes it’s hard to beat.

The angel that lends a hand for the humanitarian mission far surpasses the devil rolling dice in port… and I am glad to have taken part in the past three Pacific Partnerships. While my job may keep me out of the spotlight and rarely seen onboard, I know the feeling of ‘done good’.  Mercy is 7 days a week, a lot coffee, and loads of coordination that bring it all together to make a most memorable impression to patients, partners, and crew alike. The list of how Mercy has aided can go on and on, but in its simplest form, it brings smiles. Just by walking ashore, locals of villages and small province cities are overjoyed to see faces from Military Sealift Command’s centerfold ship USNS Mercy. Swarms of kids buzz with excitement and in one case a whole truckload of locals pulled aside to have their picture taken with me, a bearded mariner with the figurative halo and horns. To them it matters not who we are, but our good intentions on being there, and everyone onboard is part of that.

This ship is a job and I am a Merchant Marine Engineering Officer. It could be any ship in the MSC fleet, but I am glad to stay. We make your power, make your water, and in the less glorious of times make sure the toilets flush… completely. ‘The Engineers Credo’ as a maritime school friend called it, almost sums up my life onboard Mercy to a tee, “We the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, with so little, for so long, we are now qualified to do anything, with nothing.” –Mother Teresa

That said, I’ll end this blog with something more original. A Pacific Partnership 2012 Engineers Chanty (Because if it was called a poem my beard would be shaved and I would get 20 lashes from fellow mariners).  Or if you don’t feel the chanty beat, just imagine Chuck Norris reading it to Van Halen acoustics…either way….it’s not a poem.

‘THE SKY WAS CLEAR’ A PP12 Engineers Sea Chanty

‘Twas the night before sailing, the sky was clear

Fires were burning, a mission was near

Below she hissed, into the night

Atop they pressed, uniform in white

Dawn break had come, now say goodbye

Tears from loved ones, fill their eyes

Anticipation, excitement, pictures are taken

Last minute disappointment, something had breakin’

Failure, a curse, bad luck, ill fate

Such a small part, delays the date

Below engineers, take action to matter

Atop they think, subdue the chatter

Oil soaked hands, sweat pours off a brow

With confidence she’s ready, this they vow

‘Twas the night before sailing, the sky was clear

Morning comes fast, the day now here

Aweigh the leash, forward steam she thrust

On to King Neptune, our lives we trust

Splitting the waves, rolling the tides

Like a patriot to war, she journeys with pride

For now we pray, fair wind is near

Into the night we sail, the sky was clear.

The Pacific panoramic, we crossed to the west

Military and volunteers, they do their best

Smiles and stitches, the aid we gave

Futures were brightened, lives were saved

Sure as day, ship issues you faced

Engine room you dialed, trouble calls were placed

The lights they flicker, the temperature’s not right

The engineers are called, all through the night

Remember one thing, keep them your friends

We work the ship, your AC can end

Homeward bound, now we are

The engines have turned, both near and far

Advance the clocks, look to the east

The patients are gone, our work not ceased

Days to go, nights yet to pass

The hospital still moves, ‘neath the mast

The North Star now guides, the mates they steer

The lights still on, and the sky was clear.


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