The Straits Times
Published on Sep 12, 2012

US Navy medical care boosts ties, image in Asia


PEARL HARBOR, HAWAII (AP) - The United States (US) Navy is spending more than $20 million (S$24.7 million) each year sending ships to poorer nations in the Asian-Pacific region to provide cataract surgery, dental fillings and other medical care.

The Navy and its sailors are more often recognized for sending aircraft carriers to help troops in Afghanistan, fighting pirates off the Somali coast or intercepting ballistic missiles in missile defense tests off Hawaii. But the US Pacific Fleet and analysts say the humanitarian missions are key to promoting US national security, with relatively low costs even during a time of shrinking budgets.

Admiral Cecil Haney, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, said the missions strengthen relationships with other countries.

"You're building trust, bonds, and how to communicate," Adm Haney said in an interview at his Pearl Harbor headquarters. "We give it a fancy term, interoperability - it's more than just technology. It's cultural. It's this business of building trust with like-minded nations." Adm Haney spoke shortly after the hospital ship USNS Mercy and its 1,200-member crew stopped in Pearl Harbor on its way back to San Diego following a five-month long tour of Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.