He was previously commander of the USS Crommelin and deputy director for operations at Commander U.S. Pacific Fleet. Stewart holds a 1982 bachelor’s in Business Administration from the University of North Texas in Denton. He also holds post graduate degrees in Business Administration from Boston University and Military Studies from USMC Command and Staff College.
Q: Could you explain a bit about the Pacific Partnership?
A: The Pacific Partnership is really in its core element people helping people. It’s bringing together in many cases people experiencing things like natural disasters in a planned mission so that we can learn to operate together and form a standard operating procedure and also provide valuable assistance to the host nations that we go. And what are basically brought together are all four branches of the military partner nations real-time public health services and three different non-government organizations. We work very closely with the host nations by basically providing three different things.
We provide medical support through things like surgeries on board or medical expert exchanges with local professionals we help prepare medical equipment; we work on health clinics if say there was damage or some electrical work needed. We also help create roads and other infrastructure related things and we also have a third category we call community relations where we provide manpower where it’s needed. This can be playing soccer with kids day-to-day school operations or particular projects at the utility plant whatever. That’s the great thing about this mission it’s about people helping people as opposed to just something like just giving money. America is a very compassionate country and as we interact with people we learn a lot from them and they learn a lot from us.
Q: Why was the USS Peleliu chosen for Pacific Partnership?
A: The reason the Peleliu was picked was the schedule of availability. The amphibious capabilities were decided to be beneficial. It was a good choice. It’s a great ship great crew and it brings a lot of capability that can be used. Yes it was originally designed for warfare but is capable of the full scale of Naval operations one part of that being humanitarian operations. It’s well suited and has the right kind of logistics and capability. It gives us a lot of flexibility that other vessels may not have.
Q: How does Pacific Partnership come up with doctors for the missions?
A: The medical professionals on board come in four different categories. Some of them are military professionals some are volunteers partner nations provide some service personnel and non-government organizations make up the fourth category.
Q: What do you think this relationship says to the people in the Micronesian region?
A: The U.S. Navy has a long history of humanitarian operations around the globe. Most recently this is the next chapter in that. We are very much committed to helping people all over the world. I think what it boils down to is that people want security and stability and going around helping people help themselves is a great way of doing that. We have a long history of helping people in the Pacific Oceania – Micronesia Polynesia Melanesia – and I think this shows an enduring commitment that we have to this region.
Q: Do you think this mission has any relation to the upcoming military buildup say as a goodwill measure?
A: I really think it’s coincidental. We have a strong commitment to this region and maybe we haven’t been here as much as we’d like to as of late. But as I said we have a strong commitment to the region and we want to renew it.
Q: How have recent port visits gone?
A: People think of port visits as sailors out on the town drinking and mixed in with the local population. Every place we’ve stopped is very much a working visit. People are up at 4 in the morning and returning to the ship around 7 at night so we’re working hard out here. I’d have to say that this has been the most satisfying and gratifying assignment I’ve been on in my 24-year career. We interact with so many different people and see so many different cultures and everywhere we’ve been the people have been very warm welcoming and appreciative. I think we’re reaching out to these people and work shoulder to shoulder with them. It’s not like we’re just giving them something or donating to them we’re helping them help themselves – it’s truly a partnership.
Q: You’ve had an interesting career over the years. Any comments?
A: If you were to look back and see this young 22-year old boy from Texas and asked him if he thought he would have sailed around the world been in the Middle East lived in Europe and spent eight years in Hawaii I never would have thought that in my wildest dreams. With the places I’ve been it’s been a great career. I’ve been blessed. I’m not sure that I ever really anticipated it. I was joining [the military] out of a sense of obligation to my family. I was planning to fulfill the initial four-year obligation and get on with my life but now I’m thinking of making it a career.
Q: How many crewmembers are on the Peleliu?
A: We’re right at about 1 100 of the actual ship’s company and we have about another 400 composed of medical professionals NGO personnel on board partner nations on board and let’s not forget the community relations folks they’ve been doing some great stuff in all the places we’ve been. They’re every bit as important as the medical personnel for what we’re doing out here.
Q: What is the Pacific Partnership timeline?
A: We’re actually the kick-off mission for it but the Partnership will be an umbrella – so to speak – of missions like this in the future. If you were to take a book and name it Pacific Partnership Peleliu would be the first chapter of that book. I think it’s going very well we’ve been very blessed with a great team and we’ve had great support from the partner nations as well.
Q: Which are the partner nations?
A: India Vietnam Japan the Republic of Korea Canada New Zealand Australia Papua New Guinea Malaysia and Singapore. MBJ