Japanese medical team joins U.S. hospital ship for maritime mission

A team of six Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) and Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) members are part of the Pacific Partnership 2022 (PP22) medical team embarked aboard Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19).

The group consists of one surgeon, two nurses, a pharmacist, a dental hygienist and one hematologist serving as a medical event planner throughout PP22.

The annual Pacific Partnership mission contributes to regional stability and security in the Indo-Pacific through diverse exchanges across the engineering, medical, dental, veterinary, humanitarian aid and disaster response fields that foster enduring partnerships, trust and interoperability between nations.

Mercy is the largest hospital ship in the world and serves as the platform for PP22. Capt. Emiko Murata, a JGSDF nurse, said getting on the 894 ft. long vessel changed her entire perspective on what a ship could be.

“This is my first time on any ship, and the Mercy is so huge,” said Murata. “My image of ships were that they were small and rocked a lot but now I know my image was wrong. I never thought being on a ship could be so comfortable. I am also very impressed with the equipment, facilities and capabilities of the hospital ship.”

For Lt. Cmdr. Naoya Yamazaki, a JMSDF doctor, Mercy is not the first ship he has ever been on, but it still made a significant impression on the head and neck surgeon.

“I have ridden aboard JMSDF ships, but this is my first time being on a U.S. ship,” said Yamazaki. “My first impression is ‘What a huge ship is this!’ Mercy is absolutely the biggest ship I ever been on. I truly appreciate the U.S. Navy for the great time I’ve had here.”

The Japan team brings an array of medical capabilities and backgrounds to the mission, allowing for a diverse continuum of support during the first Pacific Partnership first mission stop and beyond.

1st Lt. Ikeda Shun, a pharmacist in the JASDF, said the thing he most looked forward to was exchanging knowledge with partners and medical professionals.

“I participated in the ancillary services symposium in support of the Vietnam mission stop,” said Shun. “My time on the ship helped me learn more about Mercy’s pharmaceutical processes and abilities. I also had the opportunity to educate U.S. Navy and Vietnamese professionals about Self-Defense Forces Pharmacists and our methods.”

Murata expressed sentiments similar to Shun’s.

“I learned about the medical skills and systems of other countries,” said Murata. “In Vietnam my goal was to figure out how we can better the countries’ medical community by learning the methods used by our partners.”

Murata’s expertise was used to teach and treat while in Vietnam with Pacific Partnership.

“I participated in several subject matter expert exchanges (SMEEs) where I led and participated in nursing skills lectures,” said Murata. “In addition to my SMEE participation, I took care of post-op patients after they underwent surgery aboard Mercy.”

The JGSDF nurse expounded on the significant role SMEEs play in growing professional competencies.

“We learn a lot about each another’s approaches through educating one other,” said Murata. “Another benefit of exchanging medical techniques is that we are able to review and update our own knowledge when we lecture to others. It helps us improve our own skills”

For Yamazaki, who volunteered to join the mission, the Pacific Partnership 2022 experience is a wish granted.

“For me, sharing my knowledge about head and neck surgery and airway management with our partners is an important mission. I volunteered for PP22 because I wanted to work with medical staff from other countries and be able to experience their cultures. My dreams have come true and I am so excited and grateful to have this opportunity.”

The Pacific Partnership mission brings an enhanced capability to the Indo-Pacific in a deliberate, sustainable, and transparent way by working to improve allied and partner nation’s capabilities and interoperability.

The Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) is currently underway for Pacific Partnership 2022. Now in its 17th year, Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multinational humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Pacific.

Text credit: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Shamira Purifoy, Commander, Logistics Group Western Pacific Public Affairs.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Raphael McCorey. SOUTH CHINA SEA (June 18, 2022) – Japanese service members pose for a photo on the ship’s flight deck. 

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