Pacific Partnership 2012 – CIVMAR musings aboard hospital ship USNS Mercy: Part IV Cargo Mate Casey Bell

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 First Officer Casey Bell, Mercy’s cargo mate, chronicled their experiences aboard the great, white ship for the Navy’s Pacific Partnership blog. This is the fourth post in a four-part blog series.
 -Compiled by Meghan Patrick, MSC Public Affairs

From July 2012 – Hello, I’m Casey Bell, cargo mate aboard USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) – a duty that came to as a pleasant surprise. In October of 2011, I was on MSC fleet replenishment oiler USNS Guadalupe.  I had been aboard for eight months and was preparing to detach for a two-month vacation. 

One day, out of the blue, in late October, the master of Guadalupe asked me if I would be interested in representing USNS Mercy on a pre-deployment survey from November through December for the upcoming Pacific Partnership mission scheduled for the summer of 2012.  As the Mercy representative, I would travel to the four countries the Mercy would visit and gather information for the ship.

As my planned two-month vacation flashed briefly through my mind (very briefly); I said yes.  I was very interested. And just like that, I was part of Pacific Partnership 2012.

As the cargo mate, I am in charge of ten deck department personnel. We are tasked with running the bandaid boats at the mission ports, mooring and anchoring the ship, and handling cargo both coming and going from the vessel. The guys I work with are highly motivated.  I couldn’t ask for a better group of mariners. I always feel confident that no matter what is tasked, both planned and unplanned, we will get the job done safely and efficiently.

Since accepting the position of cargo mate and completing the pre-deployment survey, the ship has sailed more than 10,000 miles, visiting ports in Hawaii and Guam, and conducting 14 day missions in Indonesia and the Philippines. 

At the moment of writing this blog, the Mercy is currently anchored off the coast of Vietnam and the city of Vinh, executing its mission with the host country.  In a week the mission in Vietnam will be complete and the ship will head for its last mission stop, the seaport of Sihanoukville located on the southern coast of Cambodia.

So far the mission has been challenging to say the least. In Indonesia, the Mercy steamed overnight and visited a different island every day. Every morning deck department would get up at three thirty in the morning and lower the boat platform over the side of the ship and secure it at the open hatch just above the water line. Then we would launch our two “Band-Aid” boats and run them all day shuttling mission personnel to and from ashore.  We would also ensure the safe transport patients to and from the ship daily. At seven in the evening we would raise and secure our boats and then raise the and secure platform. The days were long, but extremely satisfying.

While in the Philippines, and now in Vietnam, the Mercy has been at anchor vice steaming. Off the town of Calbayog, on the island of Samar, the Mercy was within a mile and a half of shore, which made for a short 15-minute Band-Aid boat trip.

Anchored off the city of Vinh in Vietnam, the Mercy is over five miles from shore, making for a 40-minute long Band-Aid boat – which is quite a difference. In rough seas the ride can be taxing on the crew and passengers, and with a quick turnaround, it can quickly become tiresome for the crew. Their perseverance and positive attitude makes me proud to work with all of the deck crew.

Besides working with the deck department personnel, I am also one of the liaisons between the Mercy crew and the mission planning personnel. I attend daily mission planning meetings and work with the DESRON staff to ensure that operations go according to plan. Many friendships have sprung up, and I am glad to have met and worked with the different departments attached to the Mercy. 

Pacific Partnership and USNS Mercy have given me the opportunity to work with some exceptional people and be part f something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I am looking forward to completing the mission in Vietnam and Cambdoia and returning home safely to family and friends.   

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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