October 18, 2007 in Nation/World

Navy plan calls for more humanitarian missions

Tony Perry and Julian E. Barnes Los Angeles Times
 

SAN DIEGO – To combat global terrorism, Navy ships will deploy on more missions to bring medical help and construction teams to regions considered vulnerable to anti-U.S. extremism, the vice chief of naval operations said here Wednesday.

Adm. Patrick Walsh, speaking to a civic group that supports the military, said that the recently completed maritime strategy plan for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard includes a “renewed commitment to humanitarian missions.”

As examples of such missions, he pointed to the recent deployments of the hospital ship Comfort and the amphibious assault ship Peleliu outfitted as a hospital ship, as well as the upcoming deployment of the docking ship Fort McHenry.

Walsh’s comments matched those by Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, in a speech Wednesday to an international gathering at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.

Roughead was backed by Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway and Adm. Thad Allen, commandant of the Coast Guard. “Preventing wars is as important as winning wars,” Conway said.

The San Diego and Newport speeches were meant as a rollout of a strategy document that, in broad terms, outlines the sea services’ plans for the 21st century.

Much of the document deals with long-standing military concerns, including the requirement for a strong forward presence to act as a deterrent, a desire for stronger ties with allies and the ongoing need to be able to move swiftly in case of conflict.

The humanitarian emphasis might signal the greatest change.

“We can talk about what you destroy in war, but what is equally important is what you build in peace,” Walsh said.

The Navy has tended to cobble together its responses to humanitarian disasters – such as the Asian tsunami in 2005 – on an emergency basis. But Naval planners now argue that in “the battle of ideas,” humanitarian missions are a good method of counteracting suspicion of the U.S.

“If we wait until a crisis to form relationships, we will be late to the game,” Walsh told the San Diego Fleet Week Foundation’s breakfast gathering. “Trust cannot be surged.”

The Navy’s post-tsunami relief effort centered around the San Diego-based hospital ship Mercy, but it is now experimenting with outfitting ships as “medical platforms” that are smaller and less expensive to operate than the massive hospital ships.

Medical personnel aboard the Baltimore-based Comfort saw 85,000 patients during stops off 12 nations of Latin America. The San Diego-based Peleliu, which is smaller than the Comfort, saw 31,000 patients in the Philippines, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon and Marshall islands.


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