Kearsarge unloading supplies in Colombia. Photo: Paul McLeary
Back in August, I spent some time aboard the USS Kearsarge while it was embarked on Operation Continuing Promise II—a multinational humanitarian mission in central and south America, providing medical assistance to the people in the region.
Late last week, Rear Adm. Joseph Kernan, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet took part in a conference call with a group of bloggers, and spoke about the mission and the future of other such missions in the region.
Most importantly, he said that missions like the one the Kearsarge was on, and the one the USS Comfort undertook in the region in 2007, are only the beginning. “We're going to continue every year,” he said, “we're going to continue to do an exercise like a Continuing Promise, and also every asset that goes into the region or the theater is going to do Continuing Promise-like activities, you know, whether it's humanitarian, whether it's a construction project or things of that nature.”
In my short time on the trip, I saw a lot of American civilian non-governmental organizations like Operation Smile taking part, but have been curious about how much the Navy used local NGOs from the host countries in doing its work. It didn’t look like there was much in the way of this on this past trip, but Admiral Kernan told me that “the NGO participation is going to grow massively in the future in my mind,” and will possibly include more host nation folks, instead of just government-run organizations.
One of the criticisms of the mission that I have seen floated is that while doing some real, tangible good, the mission by its very nature is incapable of follow-up, leaving patents with no continuing care. While that’s a problem for the host nations to solve, the Navy is doing what it can, using what Adm. Kernan called a “kind of cyber-medicine thing.” The Navy launching a program to leave audio-video equipment with doctors in El Salvador so that in the future, “in the course of an operation, people up here in Mayport can watch what they're doing and advise them on how to conduct the particular procedures, so it's kind of our way to do persistence without actually being there.”