Vietnam Coastal Medicine Initiative a Fitting way to end Pacific Partnership 2015

Cmdr. Gregg Montalto, director of medical operations, USNS Mercy

USNS Mercy and Vietnam medical personnel participate in coastal medicine disaster drill in Da Nang

The Vietnam Coastal Medicine Initiative (CMI), which culminated with the CMI drill, was a very fitting way to end Pacific Partnership 2015 and to look toward 2016. As Director of Medical Operations, I find it essential throughout the planning and execution of any mission to always refer back to the mission objectives; in the case of Pacific Partnership, we wanted to emphasize humanitarian assistance/disaster response (HA/DR) host nation capacity building and resiliency, while demonstrating our interoperability with host and partner nations. At the same time I needed to ensure that USNS Mercy Medical Treatment Facility (MTF) was ready to respond to a contingency – a real-world disaster – and in doing so, our very talented crew drilled together throughout the course of the four-month deployment and was ready to react and respond.

The CMI drill brought all of these priorities together, and was very close to being the holy grail of engagements. U.S. – Vietnamese interoperability increased over the course of two weeks, as teams led by very capable independent duty corpsmen worked with local first responders in Da Nang, teaching them the foundations of a first response to trauma victims in a disaster. Our mass casualty director worked directly with leadership at the Da Nang 115 Center (akin to our 911 Center), where they learned from each other how the tactical disaster response is handled in our respective countries. Our U.S. and Australian leadership worked with Da Nang People’s Committee leadership to design and plan this large-scale, multilateral drill.

The CMI drill itself was in essence a showcase of all the cooperative work done in the ten days prior, and the feedback we received both internally from our crew, and externally from our Vietnamese partners, was overwhelmingly positive. Da Nang People’s Committee, at the highest levels of civilian and military leadership, wants to build on the CMI program and drill in 2016 and add in other aspects of a disaster response, including command, control, and communications, and search and rescue (SAR). This is an enormous opportunity for true partnership and interoperability with Vietnam. I am proud of our skilled MTF team of true professionals and leaders for their dedication toward the Coastal Medicine Initiative, and throughout the entire Pacific Partnership 2015 mission.