For decades, the U.S. Navy’s roughly three-dozen amphibious ships have carried U.S. Marines across the world’s oceans in response to crises. Today the Marines are embroiled in long land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So the empty amphibious ships have assumed a new role: hauling military and civilian humanitarians to developing countries as part of the Pentagon’s emerging “soft power” strategy, delivering free medical care and economic assistance in order to “win hearts and minds” and solidify regional alliances.
The new strategy was most famously expressed in Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ November 2007 speech at Kansas State University, where he called for the United States to “integrate and apply all the elements of national power . . . strengthening our capacity to use ‘soft’ power.”
But the Kearsarge‘s 1,100 crew and 550 humanitarians (medic Steve Heiss pictured) are discovering that with every new strategy come new and unexpected challenges. Just days away from calling on the first of six South American countries to hand out medicine and perform surgeries, the crew discovered shortages of generators and interpreters that could cripple the mission. This despite months of planning …