The USNS Mercy is one of two Military Sealift Command hospital ships.  The Mercy served as an enabling platform for the U.S. military’s humanitarian missions.  While it’s primary mission is to “provide rapid, flexible, and mobile acute and surgical services to support” our military forces, their other mission is to “provide mobile surgical hospital service” for humanitarian relief. 


The Mercy deployed from San Diego in 2008 for their four-month tour to five nations:  Philippines, Vietnam, Timor-Leste, Federated States of Micronesia and Papua New Guinea.  They stopped on Guam briefly to gather supplies and to board volunteers before beginning their mission to help people in the region.  Our involvement began on Guam when we received a call from the Mercy asking if we had a replacement motor for one of their equipment. 


Shortly after this call, I met Chief Stephen Testa, the Chief Storekeeper (SKC) for the Mercy.  He was the inspiring force behind our involvement with this mission.  The Mercy’s timeline on Guam was just a few days to gather supplies and organize the logistics to make this a successful humanitarian mission.  He asked if I would like to get involved with being a point of contact in the Philippines to ensure that medical supplies and other provisions were delivered to Manila and Cotabato, Mindanao.  It is well documented that Cotabato is one of the most dangerous places to be at in the Philippines.  The region is swarming with insurgents. 


I had three days to decide before the Mercy embarked on their journey.  I had a quick conversation first with my father and then with my attorney.  In 2008, my son Jonathan was only four years old.  Cognizant that going on this journey might be dangerous, I had to make sure my affairs were in order for my son had anything tragic happen to me.  My father decided he wanted to go as well.  I wondered at the time how my mother would take this very thought that two people she loved might be in harm’s way.  When we finally told her, she was terrified and livid.  But, I had made all the arrangements in a matter of hours after deciding to go.  We were scheduled to go in three days. 


Our job functions in the upcoming weeks for my staff, my father, and myself now included this medical mission.  The objective was to source and deliver as much medical supplies as needed and on demand to the Mercy while they were in the Philippines.  We needed to organize quickly and determine all the team players and how to logistically execute this daunting task. 


My father’s youngest brother, “Tito Rey” was always involved with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the Philippines.  He has helped thousands of individuals who are experiencing extreme poverty whether through calamities or from being born into the doldrums of poverty and not knowing how to escape it.  I asked him for help in organizing this mission. 


His work has always intrigued me because my family came from being born into the nobility of having nothing.  Growing up, I have heard my father’s stories of his youth and the numerous trials and tribulations he experienced.   He was still young when the Japanese invaded the Philippines.  He also dropped out of the sixth grade in order to work and help his mother and stepfather send his siblings to school by selling newspaper on the streets and bread in the early morning hours of Olongapo City.  These stories and many others like it are branded into my consciousness.  Any call to action to help people, especially those in the Philippines have almost created an automatic response to react in some small way. 


The Mercy experience reminded me that the human experience isn’t exact or precise in the way we live.  It was an opportunity to help and not necessarily through charity.  I was taught that the experience of “doing” was more impactful than just “giving.”  Philanthropy will always have its place in alleviating poverty.  But, the experience with those who are impoverished by birth or by virtue of societal imposed impediments impacts our souls and will forever be life changing.  “To those who have been given so much, much is expected.” 


I will always be reminded of Chief Stephen Testa, Commander Philips, Captain Rice, and Lieutenant Anthony Owens who invited me to participate in the Mercy’s mission in the Philippines.  They truly are the unsung heroes you don’t normally hear about in the news.  The Mercy’s mission helped thousands of people in so many ways.  But, there is still work to do to transform people’s lives and ours.







Posted in: Community Service


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