Fil-Ams on US mercy ship relish homecoming
ABOARD USNS MERCY—Some USNS Mercy crew members with Philippine roots were reunited with their relatives in the country during their stay in Subic Bay Freeport last week.
Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Stephanie Madridejo, 21, had a rare opportunity to spend time with some of her relatives from Quezon City.
“I am excited to see my relatives in the Philippines. It’s been years since I last visited them and I have cousins whom I will meet for the first time,” Madridejo told the Inquirer before the reunion.
Madridejo, whose parents are Filipinos, is a medical student and lives in San Diego, California. She is assigned to the intensive care unit on the Mercy during the hospital ship’s Philippine mission.
Mateo de Dios, another Filipino-American crew member, said he visited his relatives in Cabangan, Zambales.
De Dios, 48, has been working as an electrician on the hospital ship for three months. He said his visit with his Filipino relatives was “special,” as the ship’s stay in Subic was for only a few days.
Lt. (jg) Timothy Pietrack, public affairs officer of the USNS Mercy Pacific Partnership 2015, said the Filipino-American personnel on the ship were allowed to debark and spend time with their relatives outside the free port.
The relatives were also allowed to board the ship to meet the Fil-Am crew members, he said.
100 Fil-Ams aboard
Capt. Christopher Engdahl, USNS Mercy Pacific Partnership 2015 mission commander, said there were about 100 Fil-Am personnel on the ship and some of them were on their first humanitarian mission.
The USNS Mercy arrived in this former American naval base on Aug. 4 for the second phase of Pacific Partnership 2015, which aimed to provide multilateral training, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions.
Formerly a San Clemente-class supertanker, the hospital ship has a 1,000-patient bed capacity. It has four X-ray rooms, a CT scan unit, a physical therapy suite, a pharmacy, a blood bank and an optometry lab.
The ship deployed a team of military and civilian medical professionals to provide surgical and other treatments to residents of Olongapo City and surrounding areas.
A team from the USNS Mercy went to Pangasinan on Aug. 10 for a three-day humanitarian mission.
‘It’s great to be home’
Lt. Cmdr. Elmer Jimenez, who grew up in Barangay Bued in Calasiao town, said he visited Pangasinan on a sentimental homecoming.
“It feels great to be home. It’s been 25 years since I left my pinablin (beloved) Pangasinan,” said Jimenez, the Mercy’s medical planner for the Philippines and Fiji missions.
The USNS Mercy team conducted a basic life support training on Aug. 5 and 6 at Subic Bay. Medical personnel from the Pangasinan Provincial Health Office joined the training.
Jimenez and 69 other personnel of the hospital ship, led by its deputy mission commander, Capt. Brian Delamont of the Royal Australian Navy, were received in Pangasinan by Gov. Amado Espino Jr. during the flag-raising ceremony at the capitol in Linagayen town.
The team was composed of eight Filipino-Americans, four of them, including Jimenez, hailing from Pangasinan.
“This is my first time to come home in my uniform. So it also feels great that I’m in this capacity to deliver some services here in Pangasinan,” Jimenez said.
On Aug. 10, the team conducted veterinary medical missions in 10 villages of Lingayen and met with disaster response officials.
TB, leprosy, etc.
The team also held a symposium on tuberculosis, leprosy, leptospirosis and dengue, and conducted a mobile blood donation, presurgical screening for patients with cleft palates and demonstration and rapid rabies detection tests in several Pangasinan towns.
Jimenez, 43, said he left Pangasinan when he was 18 and joined the US Navy a few months after arriving in the United States.
“There have been a lot of improvements here. I am impressed that the governor has prioritized health services as one of his programs and it’s very apparent in the capabilities of the health workers,” Jimenez said.
He said hours after his team’s arrival here on Aug. 9, he treated his colleagues to a dinner of Filipino food that included Dagupan bangus (milkfish).
“A lot of them loved the bangus and they enjoyed the puto (glutinous rice cake) and some of them even tried balut (boiled duck embryo),” Jimenez said.
During the flag-raising ceremony, the Pacific Fleet Band surprised the provincial employees when it played “Luyag ko tan Yaman” (My Province and Treasure), the official hymn of the province. They also entertained the employees with jazz numbers.
Lt. Patrick Sweeten, bandmaster, said it took his band three rehearsals to perfect the Pangasinan hymn.
“It was a special arrangement by one of our members. They are very talented people,” Sweeten said.
The band held a concert featuring American pop music at the Robinsons mall in Calasiao on Aug. 11.
The USNS Mercy left the Philippines on Friday for its next destination, Vietnam.
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