Captain Frank Ponds (PDF) can sell soft power from the sea, and he needs a date in about 6 weeks on The Daily Show (yea CHINFO I'm talking to you). I've been involved in the blogger roundtable process for at least a year now, and this morning was the most informative, most interesting discussion I've experienced to date in these conversations with the blogosphere.
Operation Continuing Promise 08 is a strategic sea basing engagement that represents the very best of the diplomatic, national, military, and humanitarian power of the United States Navy. The Navy leverages the uncontested sea for an interactive, cooperative local engagement tailored to the host nations requirements, needs, and requests supporting medical, dental, veterinarian, and engineering engagements that significantly portraits a positive perception of the United States, and does so empowered by the invitation of the host country.
While I admit to still being concerned how we quantify results, I am convinced this is an emerging pillar of peacetime strategy that must be fully supported, encouraged, and emphasized by political leadership in the 21st century towards the national strategic ends of building partnerships, supporting regional security, and preventing regional conflicts.
Below is the transcript portion of my questions to Commodore Ponds.
Galrahn: Hey, Captain Ponds. It's great talking to you. Listening to you discuss the Continuing Promise mission, it sounds to me like everything is very tailored to the locals' needs, so this question might sound a little absurd. But, I was wondering if there's a typical day: How many people do you bring on the ship? How many sites do you put people at? How many people per site? And I understand there's probably no such thing as a typical day, but I'm just trying to get a feel for a daily operation within Continuing Promise.A few notes. It was good to hear that northeastern accent of Boston Maggie whose voice always contains an uplifting spirit within. She set the tone before the call began with energy and I thought it woke everyone up. Keep her in your prayers as she beats cancer. The questions by ID friends Boston Maggie, David Axe, and Chuck Simmons were all very good, and Tom Crowes who I am unfamiliar with, but has this excellent photo album from his trip aboard Kearsarge earlier this year; also had some excellent questions regarding the NGO and medical components of Operational Continuing Promise 08.
CAPT. PONDS: Well, let me just tell you, the Continuing Promise mission requires a continuous day. It is non-stop. There is no break in this process ever. I mean, because when the mission stops ashore, it continues with planning on the ship. So, Continuing -- Continuous (sic) Promise off the ship is continuous operations on the ship.
So, let me give you the life in the day of a sailor onboard Kearsarge: You wake up at 4:30 in the morning. You -- you know, you clean up; you brush up; you have breakfast at 5:00. You muster at 5:30 if you're going to go on a mission -- and that's where we get the accountability of who's going ashore and what they need to do.
You're either on that helicopter, that landing craft at about 06:00 or 06:30. It normally takes you about 30 to 45 minutes to go from the ship to shore, of which you get on another transport vehicle to go to the project site, and that could be anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on the traffic and the way to get there.
Once you get there, we engage immediately, and work through lunch sometimes -- or to lunch. Lunch is normally 30 minutes, which it consists of a healthy MRE right there on site, which we share with our Force Protection brethren there. We stop lunch at about 13:00 and we reengage until about 17:00. At 17:30, we breakdown the equipment we're going to bring back to the ship, or we stow that equipment that's going to be secured by the host nation. And so you get back on a bus and you travel back to the point of the embarkation -- or debarkation, and then you come back to the ship either by helicopter or by surface conveyance.
You may get back on the ship about 19:00. And they had the hiccup like last night where the waves, and the tides and currents didn't allow those individuals to get back until about 22:00. And then you come back and you're tired; and you shower; and then you eat. And then you get your orders for tomorrow.
And then you link up with the plans that has been going on while you were off the ship. And so once you get your marching orders, at 21:00; and then the day begins again a 04:30 the next day. So, that's a day in the life of a typical operation on-board the ship.
Now let's talk about the project ashore. It depends. On an average day, we have about, maybe anywhere between 100 to 150 individuals that may go ashore to cover the medical sites, the dental sites, the veterinarian sites, and the engineering sites.
Galrahn: So, you're doing one site for each dental, medical, engineering --?
CAPT. PONDS: Well, I mean, like, right now we have two medical sites, two dental sites, and we have a -- we're going to set up a (rove ?) and veterinarian sites. So, these things are not running consecutively, they're running concurrently. So, we could have, like, three medical sites running at the same time; and three engineering sites running at the same time.
Let me give you a snapshot of the total number of sites we've been working within the different countries: In Nicaragua we had eight projects going on -- everything from engineering and medical projects; in the Dominican Republic we had a total of -- let me see, looks like about nine sites in the Dominican Republic; in Colombia we had -- five, six, seven -- looks like eight sites; Guyana, we're going to have 13 sites; and here in Trinidad and Tobago, we can have up to eight sites. So, again, it's a mixture of medical, dental, veterinarian and engineering sites.
Galrahn: Thank you very much, Captain.
Galrahn: I talk a lot on my blog about humanitarian -- proactive humanitarian missions and these medical diplomacy missions. And there's a general consensus among my readers that this is a great thing.
But the debate begins when you start talking about how -- and I don't want to get into the white hull, gray hull debate, but I am curious about the capability sets on the ship that you emphasize -- that you would emphasize. Like, you know, is it storage capacity? Is it your medical facilities? Is it your welldeck? Is it your aviation capabilities? What is the capability set that you think requires emphasis for these missions to be successful in deployments like Continuing Promise?
CAPT. PONDS: Everything that you just named. If I had to answer your question, I would just answer just the way you said. I mean, it all depends in what country we are. I mean, as you know, right now I just told you we are off the coast of the country, and not pier-side.
And when you're off the coast, and we call that "sea-based operations," the aviation lift, the heavy lift that's provided by the HMH Fourth and by the 53s -- MH-53s, it's a critical component of being able to lift these heavy, you know, CONEX boxes filled with materiel or supplies -- whether they be medical or engineering, deep into the host nation. It saves times on the logistics -- (inaudible) -, and also it reduces the footprint ashore.
And then let's talk about also the surface lift. Some of these countries have very well-developed ports, some of them -- some of them do not. So, when we can't go pier-side, we have to use the LCMs and the LCUs that are normally used for landing Marines, but now we landing humanitarian assistance and supplies. I mean, so it's critical to be able to broach the beach to get that humanitarian assistance across the beach.
Now, let's talk about the on-board capacity. This ship, as you know, is second only to the U.S.N.S. Comfort and the U.S.N.S. Mercy for being able to deliver this medical capacity. And so whether the ship is gray, white or green,
it's the function that it brings, it's the capacity and the capability that it brings. Just because it has an LHD-3 on it -- I mean, the host nation doesn't care what the number is, or the color, all he cares about is that this ship is bringing a critical capability by sea, air and shore to their citizens.
And that's all they care about. And you know what? That's all we care about. We are no threat to any host-nation down here because we are here on a humanitarian assistance mission. That is it. Period. Point-blank. So, I think the strategic communication sometimes gets lost in the media when it gets -- and when they try to portray this ship to be doing something that it is not. This is an HA mission. This happened to be a (gray hold ?) conducting an HA -- carrying out HA operations.
Galrahn: Captain, has your ship been full? I mean, when you deployed, where you've just crammed in everything you possibly could, like the Marines were deploying? I mean, I know how the Marines deploy. Their loading plans are to pack everything you possibly can. Was that the way you guys are deployed, or do you still have capacity? Is there -- is there non-governmental organization capacity that you could support?
CAPT. PONDS: Oh yeah. Yeah, when we left we were -- we were packed in -- stem to stern, port to starboard. I mean, you couldn't move anything because, between the vehicles, the boats and the supplies -- I mean, it was, it was loaded out.
But, as we moved from one country to another country, we've expended and used those supplies and that equipment, and so we created space because of that. So when we get back we hope to be empty of only -- everything that we needed to do the job. So, yes, we can accommodate. And, again, that's what makes this ship so perfect for HADR missions, because if we had to go and support another hurricane, or whatnot, we could on-load the necessary supplies and equipment and go out and do that mission.
For me, the discussion of what platform has become mute, we need ships of various types and my impression from speaking with Captain Ponds is that this deployment, particularly in Haiti but also for the planned HA aspects of the deployment, is simply not possible without any other ship than a LHD. I've heard people complain about them, and after doing my research, I think they are superbly ignorant and uninformed.
There is a retired professor of economics who is a member of my lodge, and he has a special interest in the economy of Africa. I will not identify him by name, but note there are other sources that say at least as much as this...
He believes that the lack of security alone contributes in numerous forms towards $50 billion annual loss of GDP to the Gulf of Guinea region. A LHD costs about $3.5 billion to build, and around $100 million to operate annually for 40 years, not including life cycle modernization. It would take 4 LHDs to operate year around in that region. Even if the United States invested $50 billion over a period of 40 years in the form of LHDs for the Gulf of Guinea, which comes to around $1.25 billion annually over 40 years compared to whatever our actual total annual investment in Africa is.
The return on investment for changing the security conditions of that region, if that $50 billion annual regional GDP loss could be recouped into the global economy, would be a minimum of $2 trillion dollars of regional GDP over that 40 year period. The way I see it, soft power via joint service, multi-national cooperative engagement efforts like what the Navy is doing in the case of Operational Continuing Promise 08 with the USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) is the best bang for the buck going for US soft power. Think about it...
Full transcript here of the bloggers roundtable, and even if he is an alumni of the Crimson Tide you can check out Commodore Pond's blog here. Sorry, a bit of displaced Razorback frustration from a terrible football season spilling over...