USS Pearl Harbor crew returns to SD - KUSI.com - KUSI News - San Diego CA - News, Weather, PPR

USS Pearl Harbor crew returns to SD

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The sailors of the USS Pearl Harbor returned to San Diego Monday from an annual deployment to provide humanitarian and civic assistance and to help prepare for disasters in nations in the Oceania region.

The amphibious dock landing ship's more than 350 sailors spent the past 105 days supporting nongovernmental organizations and regional partner nations to complete projects in Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Tonga, during the U.S. Pacific Fleet operation called Pacific Partnership 2013.

Medical and dental professionals examined more than 18,500 people and participated in hundreds of hours of knowledge exchanges with host nations during the operation, Navy officials said. Veterinary volunteers checked out around 4,100 animals and conducted nearly 1,000 surgical procedures.

"The ship has really performed well and that's because of the crew," said Pearl Harbor's commanding officer, Cmdr. Michael Harris. "They're an amazing group of people, and I count my blessings every day."

Capt. Wallace Lovely, the Pacific Partnership 2013 mission commander, said this year's operation differed from the seven previous missions because it was more focused on preventive medicine and disaster preparedness. He said in the area they went, it's not a question of whether natural disasters will occur, but when.

Military engineers from the U.S., New Zealand, France, Australia and Malaysia also completed 29 civic projects, including renovating and repairing schools, clinics and hospitals and surveying underwater anchorages for port safety.

The Pacific Partnership was crafted following the 2004 tsunami that devastated parts of Southeast Asia. It was started as a military-led humanitarian response to the natural disaster and has evolved to include several nongovernmental organizations and regional partner nations, according to Navy officials.

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