I recently returned from a trip to Asia, where I was able to meet with US partners in three different countries, and add a significant chunk of miles to my frequent flyer program. My first stop was Okinawa, where I met with members of the US Army Civil Affairs and Special Forces soldiers to explore areas where SoA’s unique model could be of assistance in support of the complex US mission in the Indo-Pacific. After a productive meeting and a chance to see some old friends who I have previously worked with, I was off to Vietnam.
They say if you want to go fast, go alone, and if you want to go far, go together. So for my second leg of the trip, I met up with our field operations and social media associate, Rachael, who the field team heavily relies on for almost everything. For the first time, we teamed up with the US Navy and US Army to support Pacific Partnerships. I was especially excited about this project as Rachael and I got to tour the USNS Mercy, a US Navy hospital ship, and meet with the Commodore to discuss our involvement with Pacific Partnerships. Even though I’ve spent nearly 10 years in the Navy, this was my first time on a ship. It was a great experience meeting the staff and seeing all the capabilities of this floating hospital.
This was also Rachael’s first trip out to the field, so without further adieu, I’ll turn it over to her to tell you about how much fun she had with me.
Project Manager – Asia Pacific
As Terrell mentioned, I recently traveled to Vietnam to support Pacific Partnership 2018 (PP18): an annual multinational disaster preparedness mission in the Indo-Pacific. This was my first trip out in the field and after 30 plus hours of traveling and an overnight stay in a tiny sleeper pod in the Hanoi airport, I was ready to touch down in Nha Trang.
This coastal town is a contrasting mix of posh beach resorts and utter poverty. Even with the dilapidated buildings and streets littered with trash, Nha Trang has a unique beauty brought on by the smiling Vietnamese people, white sandy beaches, and rich culture in which we eagerly immersed ourselves. Following the local customs, we ate a steaming bowl of Pho for breakfast every day despite the intensely hot weather. We also practiced our bargaining skills at the local street market and mastered the art of fearlessly crossing streets teaming with nonstop traffic and no stop lights.
During our trip, Terrell and I were worked with a US Army team that was deployed in Nha Trang as part of the PP18 contingent. Working with the Vietnamese Government to address the high drowning rate, the PP18 team and an Australian run non-profit conducted a lifeguard training course which provided locals with essential water rescue skills and CPR training. You can read more about the project here.
Throughout the three-day course, it was very apparent that the Vietnamese trainees were hard workers and quick learners. During one of the relay race exercises, I was swimming alongside a trainee in case he needed assistance. This man, who did not know how to swim prior to starting the course, not only finished the relay on his own but also outswam me by a mile.
At the end of the training course, I was touched watching the trainees during the graduation ceremony. These people, who I had shared jokes with and worked beside for the past three days, were beaming with pride as they received their lifeguard certificates. The skills they learned would help them save lives in their community, and they were so grateful to the US Army and Navy PP18 team who participated in the entire course and supported the trainees every step of the way.
Watching the US team interact with the trainees and forge friendly relationships with them, and seeing the determination with which the Vietnamese people trained to develop these life-saving skills, reminded me of the importance of SoA’s work. I was so proud to be out in the field supporting a mission that brought countries together and positively impacted people’s lives.
All in all, it was a very successful first trip and I can’t wait to get back out in the field.
It’s Terrell again! Our adventure wasn’t over after Vietnam. After a few days in Ho Chi Min, where we experienced local transportation, and the bustling crowds of backpacker street, we were off to the Philippines.
As you may know, the Armed Forces of the Philippines have been fighting against violent extremist organizations for decades. The most recent and largest fight began in May 2017, when an ISIS-affiliated group attacked the city of Marawi, and a 5-month long battle ensued, you can read more about here. Since then, Spirit of America has worked with deployed troops and US Embassy personnel to support the AFP in this fight and the Filipino people it affected.
Rachael and I met with a US team to discuss areas where we may be of further assistance and check in on some of our projects from the months prior. Between meetings, we found time to try the local delicacies and experience Manila – the capital. Rachael especially liked balut, a developing bird embryo that is boiled and eaten from the shell. Delicious!
Besides being loads of fun, Rachael was an invaluable addition to the trip. There’s nothing more rewarding than being a part of a team where everyone is so dedicated and passionate about the work. I know I certainly couldn’t operate without the support of everyone on the SoA team. Now that I’ve been so spoiled with all the help Rachel provided, I’m sure this won’t be our last trip together.
Until next time,
Terrell and Rachael