Harbor Beach native part of U.S. Navy humanitarian mission

A local United States Navy service member will finally get her chance to see the world as she participates in a humanitarian relief program.

Harbor Beach’s Gabrielle Cooper, currently petty officer third class, will be serving onboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy as part of this year’s Pacific Partnership.

A graduate from Harbor Beach schools in 2017, Cooper joined the Navy in January 2019 after deciding college was not for her and wanting to get experience and exploring new places. That was when she heard about the hospital corpsmen program.

The hospital corpsmen do medical work for the Navy and the Marines. Cooper described them as like medical assistants, having worked under doctors and surgeons. They provide care for active-duty personnel, their family members, and retired veterans.

“You don’t have anything specific unless you want it,” Cooper said. “I’ve been in pediatrics; I’ve been in orthopedics. I kind of get bounced around and I actually get to experience all the different parts of the medical community.”

So far, Cooper has been stationed at naval hospitals in Jacksonville, Florida and San Diego. This is her first naval deployment outside of the United States.

“I’m very excited to be on this mission,” Cooper said. “I’ve heard a lot about the Mercy and all of her mission and what they do during those missions. It’s all for humanitarian and disaster relief. So being able to be a part of something like that, to be able to go out and make a difference to other counties, its really something that I’m honored to be able to do.”

Mercy departed from its home port of San Diego on May 3 with 800 crew personnel aboard, including engineers, support staff, civil service mariners, and partner nation representatives. The ship reached the territory of Guam on May 26 on route to its destinations.

Mercy and the mission team will conduct missions throughout Oceania and the Western Pacific. At the invitation of host nations, Cooper and her teammates will conduct tailored medical, dental, veterinary, engineering, and civic action projects, along with subject-matter-expert exchanges.

Cooper said the mission will take six months from start to finish and could not disclose exactly which countries she will be going to.

According to the Navy, the Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multinational humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Pacific region. It has been going every other year for the last 17 years.

The team will work with host nation counterparts and regional partners to provide tailored medical, dental, and veterinary care and conduct bilateral engineering civic actions, and exchange information related to disaster response processes.

The personnel that participate in this depend on their experience if they are knowledgeable in a subject. For community outreach efforts like building houses and schools, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities open.

Cooper said that nurses and foremen go out to local hospitals to educate and help nurses with areas like helping babies breathe and newborn CPR.

“I’m really looking forward to the experience that I’m going to gain throughout this entire deployment and the type of work I’m going to be doing,” Cooper said. 


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