Forty airmen of various trades from the 5th Civil Engineer Squadron at Minot Air Force Base returned in December after nearly four months at sea on the USS Kearsarge, in support of the Caribbean phase of the humanitarian/civic assistance mission Continuing Promise 2008.
This is the first time the civil engineer squadron from Minot AFB has participated in this humanitarian/civic assistance mission.
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Engineers with the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge help build a new schoolhouse for local children during the humanitarian assistance mission Continuing Promise 2008, shown in this U.S. Navy photo taken Aug. 30 in Los Alpes, Colombia.
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Navy Capt. Fernandez “Frank” Ponds, right, mission commander of Continuing Promise 2008, presents a plaque commemorating a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a playground constructed by engineers and sailors from USS Kearsarge for the local school elementary school, shown in this U.S. Navy photo taken Oct. 7 in Altragracia, Dominican Republic.
Maj. Thomas Defazio served as commander of the 5th Civil Engineer Squadron Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force from Minot AFB. Twenty Navy Seabees worked along with the group.
Continuing Promise 2008 offered valuable training to U.S. military personnel while promoting partnerships and goodwill.
Following is a portion of a story by Continuing Promise Public Affairs about the work of the airmen from Minot AFB. When the story was written, the mission was completed, the Kearsarge had left Georgetown, Guyana Nov. 22, and was on its way back to its home port in Norfolk, Va.
In addition to the medical care provided by the CP (Continuing Promise) team, airmen from the 5th Civil Engineer Squadron Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force and Navy Seabees from Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 202 completed various construction and renovation projects in each of the five countries visited during the mission.
In all, the joint-military engineering team built three schools, renovated 10 schools, clincs and hospitals, conducted 10 park-community center renovations and performed five infrastructure related projects.
"I am very proud of the projects my engineers were able to accomplish in the short periods of time that we had to work. To build three school facilities from the ground up was an amazing accomplishment," said Maj. Thomas Defazio, of Minot AFB, officer in charge of Continuing Promise 2008 engineers.
"We all felt privileged to be a part of this mission. The teamwork amongst the various organizations that came together was unbelievable. I also greatly enjoyed the opportunity to work with the Seabees again. I think our organizations have much to learn from each other. We came as two separate units but left as one team," Defazio said.
At each stop on the deployment, Kearsarge sailors assisted the engineering team by participating in volunteer community relations projects at the sites and offering extra hands to help with landscaping, construction, painting and building playgrounds.
The sailors also took great pride in getting to know the communities they worked in by organizing several sporting events including basketball, soccer and cricket.
Throughout the deployment, Kearsarge delivered more than thousands of dollars worth of hospital furniture, clothing, books and medical supplies through the Navy's Project Handclasp.
The ship also hosted numerous dignitaries, including presidents, prime ministers, U.S. ambassadors and ministers of health and defense.
In a sign of transparency, open invitations were sent to regional media members from Russian and Venezuelan media outlets, embarking guests aboard Kearsarge during its stops in the Dominican Republic and Guyana, reporting first-hand accounts of the Continuing Promise 2008 mission to their respective homelands.
Project Hope brought volunteers from numerous career fields, including pediatricians, nurses, nurse practitioners, general surgeons and anesthesiologists. The volunteers' work ranged from patient tracking to helping effectively coordinate large patient flow at the treatment sites to working with Navy surgeons in the ship's operating rooms to medical counseling at the treatment sites.
"The men and women who make up the Continuing Promise team come from around the globe, from different military branches and different NGOs, but the one thing they all have in common is a desire to help their fellow man and make a difference in the lives of others," said Capt. fernandez "Frank" Ponds, mission commander of Continuing Promise. "They each bring a uniqueness to the mission and have worked together seamlessly to make this deployment a tremendous success."
During its four-month deployment, Kearsarge completed humanitarian and civic assistance missions in Nicaragua, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana.
Wasp-class amphibious assault ships like Kearsarge are designed with a variety of expeditionary mission capabilities, including rapid, projected humanitarian assistance worldwide. They also have the physical capacity to transport large amounts of medical and engineering supplies and equipment to most locations around the globe.
One month into the mission, Kearsarge put those capabilities to the test when it was called upon to divert its humanitarian and civic assistance operations in Colombia and assist with humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operations in Haiti after the country was struck by four tropical storm systems in less than a month.
Kearsarge's ability to rapidly move personnel and cargo by helicopter and landing craft, made it the ideal platform to support the humanitarian relief mission on short notice.
Embarked Marine and Navy helicopters flew more than 100 missions and landing craft units transported more than 30 loads of supplies. These operations led to the timely delivery of more than 3.3 million pounds of food, water, and other relief supplies.
"I could not have been more proud of the Kearsarge sailors and all of the embarked units who have supported this mission," said Capt. Walter Towns, commanding officer of the USS Kearsarge. "No one hesitated to do what was necessary to keep this mission on course. We had men and women working in the rain and in the heat, giving their all everyday just to put a smile on the faces of those they were helping. They never once asked for thanks or recognition. For them, it was about being a part of something bigger. This is a deployment they will never forget."
Kearsarge's mission exemplified the United States maritime strategy which emphasizes deploying forces to build confidence and trust among nations through collective maritime security efforts that focus on common threats and mutual interest.
USS Kearsarge is under the operational control of U.S. 4th Fleet.
U.S. 4th Fleet's mission is to direct United States naval forces operating in the Caribbean, and Central and South American regions and interact with partner nation navies to shape maritime environment.
The Continuing Promise Caribbean Phase is the second of two humanitarian-civic assistance deployments to the Southern Command area of focus in 2008. The first Continuing Promise deployment was conducted by USS Boxer in the Pacific.
Embarked units and organizations aboard Kearsarge for Continuing Promise included Commander, Amphibious Squadron 8, Fleet Surgical Team 4; U.S. Public Health Service; Navy Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 202; Air Force 5th Civil Engineer Squadron Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force; contingents of medical personnel from the armed forces of the Canada, The Netherlands, France and Brazil; Navy Assault Craft Unit 2; Naval Beach Group 2; Non-governmental organizations International Aide, Operation Smile and Project HOPE; U.S. Navy Maritime Civil Affairs Squadron 2; Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28, and Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464.