Subject: USNavy: presence in East Timor in 2000

U.S. Navy shows presence in East Timor in 2000 7th Fleet Public Affairs

Posted: 02/23/01

YOKOSUKA, Japan -- As USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) Sailors dropped anchor off the coast of Dili, East Timor, Feb. 22, they became the latest U.S. Navy asset to continue humanitarian port visits in East Timor in support of the country’s transition to independence.

Sailors arriving in East Timor work under the command of U.S. Support Group East Timor (USGET), an American military command subordinate to the U.S. Pacific command in Hawaii.

"After all that these people have gone through, it means so much [to the East Timorese] to know that the United States cares," said former USGET commanding officer, Marine Corps Col. Michael E.Williams. "It fills me with pride to be a part of the Navy/Marine Corps team. The commanding officer said U.S. Navy ships present a spectacular sight as they pull into Dili’s harbor.

In the year 2000 alone, 15 U.S. Navy ships from Yokosuka, Japan; Guam; Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; and San Diego visited East Timor. Additionally, a Navy optometry/ophthalmology team based in the Western Pacific, a preventive medicine team from Pearl Harbor and a team of Navy dentists and dental technicians from Okinawa, provided support to the people of Dili during more than 50 community service projects.

The ships' crews provided skilled labor for carpentry, electrical repairs, painting and other improvements to dozens of churches, schools, children's homes and other community facilities destroyed during the war.

"It’s hard to imagine the things I saw and learned today," said Chief Master-at-Arms Christopher Harrison, the first day of USS O’Brien’s (DD 975) humanitarian port visit to East Timor in October 2000, where crewmembers helped paint and repair the auditorium at a local school. "The town was completely destroyed," said Harrison, who helped provide security for community service participants. "All the buildings, homes and schools are burned out ­- except for a handful."

USS John S. McCain arrived in Dili in April 2000, with more than 25 Sailors volunteering at a large Catholic church, Paroco da Cathedral de Dili, to help sand and reseal all the external woodwork. By days end the transformation was nearly complete.

"This was the best COMREL that I have ever done ... we completed the task in front of us" said Engineman 2nd Class (SW) William Pretory, of Redfield, New York.

"Every Sunday ... they will be able to say 'The Americans helped us," said Lt. Edward Voelsing, a Colorado Springs, Colo., native.

"I am extremely proud of my crew. They worked hard as a team both on board and ashore to further the United States' mission in East Timor," said McCain’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Jeffrey Harbeson after the destroyer’s visit. "They adapted extremely well to a new mission for them," Harbeson said.

"The smiles on all the faces … said it all," said Fire Controlman 2nd Class (SW) Ross Lanning of Benton, Maine.

The smiles on the local citizens’ faces were made brighter by Navy dental teams that visited the country. Several medical and dental units provided services throughout the year. One Navy dental team treated more than 1, 000 patients June 19-29,while a team of Navy eye doctors treated 2,680 patients, distributed 2,362 pairs of glasses and performed 99 cataract surgeries in the two-week period from July 17-29. "This is the first time I’ve deployed anywhere that has never had eye care available," said Dr. (Cmdr.) Jim Tidwell, team leader, and a staff ophthalmologist at Naval Medical Center, San Diego.

"There aren’t any optometrists or ophthalmologists in East Timor, so we’ve taught some basic techniques to the doctors, nurses and medical students here.

"We’d like to bring a second team in," said Army Capt. Chris Johnson, USGET medical planner. "We’ve managed to take a step toward helping the people of East Timor, but there are so many people out there," he said. "We had some people making the two-day walk into town to get their eyes examined, but there are so many more out there who we couldn't reach."

A Navy preventive medicine team gave water sanitation and food safety classes to Dili restaurateurs June 12. The group also taught classes on infection control to health care workers and a children's health class to teachers and students at a local school.

Team leader, Lt. Mike Kubler, said the significance of the healthy children course is that it educates the teachers and children on general hygiene, disease transmission and mosquito control. "Starting with the children helps to build a strong foundation for teaching others," he said. "By teaching the children, learned attitudes can be passed along entire families."

USS Fletcher (DD 992), was the last U.S. Navy ship to visit Dili. The ship's crew hosted civilian and military leaders in East Timor during a luncheon and tour Jan. 17, while nearly 100 more crewmembers worked ashore distributing goods to orphans and school children. Fletcher Sailors also rebuilt a community center as part of an ongoing community service project.

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