SAN DIEGO -- The amphibious transport dock USS Cleveland returned to San Diego Thursday from a five-month humanitarian mission to the South Pacific.
The Cleveland deployed March 21 as the command vessel for "Pacific Partnership,'' in which humanitarian visits were made to Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua- New Guinea, Timor-Leste and the Federated States of Micronesia. The Cleveland also made port calls to New Caledonia and Australia.
The Pacific Partnership team included representatives from all the armed services, the State Department, partner nations and nongovernment organizations, as well as medical, dental, veterinary and engineering experts.
The team saw nearly 39,000 patients, handed out more than 21,000 pairs of eye glasses and treated 933 animals, according to the Navy.
Navy Capt. Jesse A. Wilson Jr., the mission commander, said that in Tonga, the education minister spoke through tears as he expressed thanks for a new roof that U.S Navy Seabees installed at a school decimated by a cyclone two years earlier.
"Very few times do we get to see immediate gratification from the people we were helping, and we had that in all of these countries,'' Wilson said.
The U.S. Pacific Command launched the Pacific Partnership initiative in 2005 after a devastating tsunami.
Commissioned in 1967, the Cleveland is the Navy's third-oldest commissioned ship. It was first deployed to the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War 44 years ago and is scheduled to be decommissioned later this year,
Wilson said it was fitting that the Cleveland will have concluded its career in support of a major humanitarian assistance mission.
"This brings it all full circle,'' he said. "It's a great way for the ship to end its mission and its role in the U.S. Navy. And I can't think of a better deployment to end it on.''
Also returning Thursday are more than 125 sailors of Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron 3, which protected U.S. naval assets in Kuwait. The contingent is expected Thursday night.