Cover story, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: “In death, Marine returns to island where he survived battle”

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Jordan Vinson, For the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Feb. 9, 2015, Roi-Namur, Marshall Islands — Under a cluster of coconut palms on a tiny coral island more than 6,400 miles from Milwaukee, Lynne Rivera and Paula Smith honored their father’s final wish.

Frank Pokrop had been a sniper in the 4th Marine Division during World War II. Trudging through the jungle, trapped behind enemy lines, he was shot and nearly lost his life on Namur, one of two conjoined islands at the northern tip of Kwajalein Atoll in the heart of the Marshall Islands.

A Young Frank Pokrop, shortly after joining the Marines.

Seventeen at the time he enlisted, 18 and a corporal when he took part in the Battle of Kwajalein, the experience never really left him.

He served as president of the 4th Marine Division Association, helped organize reunions, and for 47 years ran a scholarship committee for division members’ college-bound children and grandchildren. Twice, he returned to the island for anniversary commemorations, in 1985 and 1994.

The speck of land in the central Pacific kept calling her father back, said Smith, who lives in Menomonie.

Pokrop achieved much in his life — coach and counselor, teacher and principal, community volunteer and church leader. He and his wife, Maxine, had three children and five grandchildren.

But when he died at age 89 a few weeks before Christmas — the anniversary of Pearl Harbor to be exact — it was time to head back to Namur one final time.

And so on Jan. 30, just shy of 71 years after the island battle started, Pokrop’s daughters landed here and climbed out of a 19-seat turboprop commuter plane, bringing with them their father’s ashes.

‘I Am Humbled’

Rivera and Smith were guests of honor at a special military funeral performed by American service members and civilians who work at the U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll base. Dan Farnham, a Kwajalein resident and World War II history buff, coordinated the trip. The sisters were joined by three surviving veterans of Operation Flintlock, the campaign against the Japanese in the Marshalls in 1944 that included the Battle of Kwajalein.

Clutching a small black box containing her father’s remains, tears streamed down Smith’s cheeks as she listened to Army Col. Nestor Sadler, commander of the Army garrison on Kwajalein Atoll.

“Ms. Rivera, Ms. Smith — daughters of the late Frank Pokrop — I am humbled to stand before you today and honored by the late Frank Pokrop’s last wishes to be laid to rest among fellow Marines here on these hallowed grounds,” Sadler told the group gathered at the north end of the island. “For 71 years ago, they fought as comrades, side by side, as part of Operation Flintlock.”

Handing the black box to Sadler, Smith let go of her father for the last time. A call to arms was announced, and the three living veterans answered roll call with verbal affirmations.

Then Pokrop’s name was called three times. Each time, there was silence — an acknowledgment of his passing.

An American Legion rifle squad fired a three-volley salute. Taps poured out of a trumpet. And then Sadler scattered Pokrop’s ashes onto a dry, shaded patch of sand and soil, returning him to the earth where about 200 Americans and 3,500 Japanese defenders were killed in combat.

The ceremony was a perfect way to honor her father, said Rivera, of Milwaukee.

Paula Smith, middle, and Lynne Rivera, right, watch as the ashes of their later father, Marine Corporal Frank Pokrop are spread on the island of Namur. The two made the trip from Wisconsin to fulfil their father’s dying wish, to be spread on the battlefield on which he fought 70 years prior.

“It was a moving and emotional experience,” she said. “And Col. Sadler did an excellent job in embracing Dad’s philosophy in life. It was where he wanted to go back to.”

Pokrop had planned for Namur to be his final resting place since 1998, when he first wrote letters to the State Department, the Department of the Army and Marshall Islands authorities to ask permission.

In the years since, he never questioned the decision.

“My father would have been very happy,” Smith said after the ceremony.

Death Seemed Imminent

Home today to a high-tech U.S. military weapons testing range and space debris tracking installation, the islands of Namur, Roi and Kwajalein were important naval and aircraft resupply bases used to power Japanese forces throughout the central Pacific during World War II. Roi is Namur’s neighbor to the west, connected by a land bridge; Kwajalein is at the southern tip of the atoll.

The American plan to take the Marshalls came on the heels of a controversial battle at Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands two months earlier. Nearly 6,400 Americans, Japanese and Koreans died in 76 hours of fighting. The carnage stunned the American public, although Adm. Chester Nimitz defended the effort for knocking down “the front door” of the Japanese defenses.

Vowing to avoid another Tarawa, U.S. commanders hammered Japanese bases on Kwajalein Atoll from the air and sea, leveling much of their defenses before troops poured out of their landing craft onto the beaches.

Nevertheless, a formidable Japanese contingent remained, tucked in foxholes, bunkers and concrete fortifications. Having largely fled Roi after the shelling, the remaining defenders took up protected positions on Namur and waited.

Pokrop and five other snipers found themselves trudging through the sunbaked jungle on a patrol run Feb. 1, 1944. As daylight began to fade, small arms fire barked out from a concealed Japanese position, killing one of the snipers instantly and wounding four of the others, including Pokrop.

“Somehow they got surrounded by Japanese on three sides,” Smith said. “They didn’t realize they had gotten behind Japanese lines. … They thought they were dead.”

Then Marine Lt. Col. A. James Dyess appeared, pushed the Marines into “some kind of hole,” Smith said, and fought the Japanese back.

“With no protection and heavy fire coming at us from a few feet away and dusk approaching, we were certain to be killed,” Pokrop wrote in a 1988 letter featured in a 2001 biography of Dyess. “All of a sudden Col. Dyess broke through on the right, braving the very heavy fire, and got all of us out of there.”

Dyess would die the next day, while leading his unit toward one of the few remaining Japanese positions at the north end of Namur. He was awarded the Medal of Honor a few months later; the airfield on Roi bears his name.

Coming Full Circle

Having experienced war and facing what he thought was certain death, Pokrop never took life for granted, Smith said.

Using the GI Bill, he earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and two master’s degrees — from Western State College in Colorado and the University of Michigan.

He went on to work as coach, counselor, teacher, vice principal and principal at numerous places, including Bay View, James Madison and Rufus King high schools.

He led the Holy Name Society and the choir at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, and served as a lector for a half-century. He and his wife, who died in 2008, worked together for years on the Jackson Park Fourth of July celebration.

Their two daughters remain in Wisconsin. Rivera works for Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare and Bon Ton Stores; Smith teaches harp at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Their son, Frank L. Pokrop III, lives in California and works for CareFusion, a medical technology corporation.

Through it all, Pokrop’s brethren in the 4th Marine Division — and one fallen comrade in particular — stayed with him.

“As you may see, Col. Dyess has never been out of my thoughts for these 43 years,” Pokrop wrote in 1988. “And he will always be there until I die.”

Now, Pokrop is back where those memories began.

“Yes,” Smith said before catching her flight back to Wisconsin. “He’s come full circle.”

Jordan Vinson is a freelance journalist and photographer who lives and works on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

Magazine Feature: “Bicycles in Paradise”

April 2016 feature in Bicycle Times
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Jordan Vinson, for Bicycle Times

On a tiny flyspeck of land, in the middle of the massive Western Pacific, isn’t where you would expect to find a rich and thriving bicycle culture. The U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll, located on the remnants of an ancient volcano in the western archipelago of the Marshall Islands, is home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site.

Living among the installation’s array of radars, rocket launch pads, missile tracking stations and WWII-era Japanese pillboxes and blockhouses are roughly 1,200 Army personnel, MIT scientists and civilian contractors. Together, they operate and support a state-of-the-art American weapons test range and deep space surveillance site on the islands of Kwajalein, Roi-Namur and smaller satellite islands peppered along the rim of the largest natural lagoon on the planet.

They also ride bikes. A lot.

Rick Broomel, a commercial diver from Knoxville, Tennesse, sports a prime example of the classic Kwaj bike, replete with the gooseneck stem extension indigenous to Kwajalein Atoll.

Wedged into rickety wooden bike racks, propped against swaying coconut palms and constantly tipping over in the steady trade winds, the number of bicycles on the installation is greater than the number of people living there. Even Copenhagen doesn’t have a bicycle ownership and usage rate to this degree.

The explanation for the small community’s apparent love for leg-powered travel is, at its core, rather simple: Because the garrison consists of only a handful of remote islands with a cumulative landmass no larger than a few big city blocks, no personal motorized vehicles are permitted. Nor are they required. Commutes to work are, generally, a breeze. A trip to Surfway, the garrison’s sole supermarket, takes only a few minutes—even when competing for cheese and avocados, both prized food items for remote island dwellers. When you need to haul a big load around, you simply attach a rugged, two-wheeled trailer and tow your payload home like a beast of burden.

Ron Sylvester tows his children Myles, left, and Kaya in his custom-made rickshaw on Kwajalein. From Florida, Sylvester is a 1600-ton vessel master and ship captain.

Driving the Kwajalein and Roi-Namur communities’ rich diversity in bicycles is the residents’ desire to stand out from the crowd, said Normen “Auntie” Sablas, a long-time Kwajalein resident and logistics support coordinator for test range customers with the Missile Defense Agency, NASA and so on.

“Everybody has different personalities,” he said outside his home on a blustery afternoon in early February. “So they want to fit their bikes to their own personalities. Some like bikes with the high-rise handlebars … And some prefer just a standard look and feel. It’s all about individual preference.”

The peculiar “high-rise” handlebars that Sablas mentioned are usually one of the first things newcomers notice about the Kwaj (island speak for Kwajalein) and Roi-Namur bike scene. Called “goosenecks” by locals, they’re emblematic of the classic Kwaj bike, and at first glance they look both goofy and completely inefficient in terms of getting anywhere quickly. But Sablas pointed out the true utility of the gooseneck: comfort level and cool points.

Normen “Antie” Sablas, from Lahaina, Maui, is the logistics support coordinator for test range customers like the Missile Defense Agency, the Navy, NASA and so on. He lends out more than 100 Sun cruisers to installation visitors free of charge.

“It’s easier to ride, and it’s easier on your back,” he said. “You’re sitting up straight. The only problem is when you’re riding against the wind. But other than that, it’s kind of a cool thing to ride on it.”

Fellow Kwajalein resident Michael Symanski hit on another key point: Nobody’s really going anywhere very quickly. “My strongest and most common impression of the beach cruiser bike culture here is best described as ‘island time,’” he said. “Extremely relaxed, mellow and comfortable, such to the point that the slow pace of riding seems to defy the laws of physics.”

Michael Symanski, a fire systems tech from Chicago, uses his Kwaj bike to haul his surfboard to a favorite surfing locale on Kwajalein.

Nailing down the origins of the Kwajalein gooseneck is difficult. Sablas, who owns and lends out more than 100 Sun Bicycles beach cruisers to visiting engineers, Missile Defense Agency mission leaders and other visitors, has lived on Kwajalein off and on since 1975. He’s never known a time in which the classic longneck stem wasn’t in vogue.

Wayne Christian, a crane mechanic from Fayetteville, North Carolina, hauls a big load down the road to his home. Sights like these are common on the installation where no personal motorized vehicles exist.

Army Signal Corps footage shot in 1972 and recently digitized by a National Archives team in Maryland documents the use of the gooseneck in the early 1970s, a time when thousands more people lived on the garrison to support America’s Cold War ballistic missile defense strategy.

According to Bill Remick, a former long-time Kwaj resident and author of a history on the island titled “Just Another Day In Paradise,” the use of the gooseneck has to have sprung up sometime during the late 1950s or early 1960s. It was at a time when an influx of civilian contractors began streaming in to support the Army’s brand-new Nike Zeus anti-ballistic missile system designed to destroy Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“I heard from two sailors who were there [in] ’55-’56, and none of the military guys had bikes,” Remick wrote via Facebook from his home outside Phoenix. “They either ran or walked to where they needed to go … If I had to guess, it began with the arrival of construction people. Folks with the requisite skills to make the goosenecks.”

Jerry Baxter, a Reagan Test Site radar field engineer from Squires, Missouri, sits atop his tiny ride in front of the ruined WWII Japanese Air Operations Command Building, a relic still standing more than 70 years after America and Japan went to war on Kwajalein Atoll in 1944.

Regardless of the true origins of the high-rise stem, there’s much more to the bicycle culture of Kwajalein and Roi- Namur than goosenecks and Sun Bicycles beach cruisers. Cannibalizing existing frames and transforming them into completely new rides has a long track record on the far-flung Army base, where free time abounds and replacement parts can be hard to come by.

Few understand the Kwajalein and Roi-Namur communities’ obsession over bicycle customization better than Doug Hepler, an industrial technology and history teacher at Kwajalein’s small high school. A former metal worker with the Navy, he has cut, sculpted and welded aluminum and steel into roughly 20 bicycles over the years, many of which are one-off Frankenbikes that are both a means of getting around the island and a medium for creative expression.

The islands’ bike customization culture is a big part of what makes living on the installation a real diversion from life in the average American city or town, he said. “I think it really displays the great creativity that both our engineers and non-engineers have,” he said. “It shows real ingenuity to help make this space the world-class facility it is. And it shows what people will do to accommodate their rides to get around as comfortably as possible.” 

The small fleet of run-of-the-mill Sun and Giant bikes parked outside his family’s home is a testament to the bicycle’s role as an inescapable feature of life on the islands. But it’s his custom-built DIY creations that speak volumes on the importance of taking an idea, making it your own and doing it with limited resources found on the islands.

LEFT: The Army base commander Col. Michael Larsen sits atop his unassuming all-black cruiser. RIGHT: Kwajalein bike customization wizard Doug Hepler shows off his “red car.”

His “red car,” for instance—a four-wheeled beast he cobbled together using scrap parts found at the landfill and elsewhere around the island—is a prime example. Taking inspiration from a junked child’s pedal car his son had found one day, Hepler decided he could make one himself—but for an adult. Like most of the original bikes he fashions, the emphasis was on re-utilizing spent parts and buying brand-new as little as possible.

“The wheels were donated from a friend who collected bike wheels, and he gave me a stack about five feet high when he [moved],” he said. “I bought the chain and the spray paint and the stainless bolts. Everything else came from the dump … and parts I found by the side of the road.”

Hepler took a similar approach with another custom ride he built, this time a cargo-friendly workhorse tricycle named “the truck,” which he uses to haul everything from groceries to lumber and loads of air tanks needed for the scuba diving classes he teaches. Because “the truck” was welded together completely from scrap aluminum pulled from the frame of an old backyard awning, the only items he had to buy brand-new were hardware, a chain and some other minor odds and ends.

However, like everything else in life, bikes have life cycles, Hepler explains. He’s not afraid of parting ways with his creations after he’s gotten his use out of them. Maybe he’ll sell a particular bike or, even better, cannibalize it for parts to use in other custom rides. “Yeah, I’m a cannibal,” he said with a smile. “I’m definitely a cannibal.”

The passion to modify the bikes and create original designs from the ground up is a carry-over from America’s obsessive car culture, among a few other reasons, he said. “I think it’s pride,” he said. “I think a few [residents], and I emphasize the word few, just like to show off. Some, like me, like to build them just for fun. I have more fun building them than I do riding them. Other people are determined to build something unique so that it’s obvious it wasn’t bought at the store—and therefore it’s a lot harder to steal.”

Tom Sandifer, another Kwaj modifier, echoed Hepler’s opinion. Having just finished a custom-made two-wheeled cargo carrier in early February, he said that the drive for modifying bicycles lies in people’s desire to strike personal identities for themselves. There’s also the free time people often have, he added.

Tom Sandifer, a Kwajalein resident from South Carolina, sits atop a recently finished Franken-bike he had put together to help him haul things around the island.

“Part of it’s just to be unique, to be different,” he said, loading his rig with packages at the Kwajalein post office. “Everybody’s got a Sun bike here. Everybody wants to have something a little unique. I’ve seen the recumbent bikes. I’ve seen the three-wheeled bikes and four-wheeled bikes and all kinds of different little contraptions out here. It’s just something to kill the time and just be a little interesting.”

To call Sandifer’s bike “a little more interesting” would be an understatement, though. Consisting of the back end of a Schwinn cruiser mashed together with cannibalized sections of an aluminum Huffy frame, his two-wheeler features a large cargo bed that rests between his gooseneck stem and an extended fork that stretches out about eight feet from the rear tire. What might seem like a completely impractical setup to the untrained eye, Sandifer’s bike makes complete sense to him.

“It’s Kwaj. Everybody’s got a bike. Everybody’s got a trailer,” he said. “I had [a trailer] on the back of my bike, but it made the bike top-heavy, and I could only carry so much on it. I just wanted something that I could carry stuff with and just have one piece.”

Four of the roughly 80 Roi-Namur residents pose in front of the ALTAIR radar, which was built 53 years ago and is still going strong. From left: Tommy Drabek, a transmitter field engineer from California; Shelley Easter, an mission operations director from St. Johnsbury, Vermont; Richard Carroll, a field engineer from Pensacola, Florida; Allan Foreman, an ALTAIR transmitter engineer from Epping, New Hampshire.

The bikes of Kwajalein Atoll may be extensions of riders’ personalities, but they share one major element in common: They are the residents’ only means of personal travel. Chains and forks broken down by heavy salt spray, humidity and heat; the act of dodging coconuts, crabs and rats along paths and streets; the struggle of pedaling into the trade winds and having to root around the island looking for your “borrowed” bike are only a few aspects of the islands’ rich bike culture that the residents can collectively identify with.

And as long as the missiles keep flying and the radars keep humming, those bikes—whatever forms they may take—will be there with those people, making their lives a bit more interesting and their time on the islands a bit more special.



Global Strike Command Launches Threat Cloud at Reagan Test Site

Feb. 11, 2017 Kwajalein Hourglass
A trio of mock warheads re-enter the atmosphere at Kwajalein Atoll during the GT221 launch of a Minuteman III ICBM from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. It was the Air Force Global Strike Command’s first test of multiple independent re-entry vehicles in years.

The Air Force Global Strike Command lobbed up a cluster of mock warheads aboard a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile Thursday night. Completing its 4,200-mile journey from the mid-California coast in roughly 30 minutes, the ICBM’s payload bowled into the atmosphere east of Kwajalein Atoll shortly after 8 p.m., deploying a trio of re-entry vehicles aimed for pre-planned impact areas in Mid-Atoll Corridor waters.

GT221, the official name of the exercise, was the first test in years in which the Global Strike Command put the Minuteman III’s ability to carry and deploy multiple warheads to a flight test. Many U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll residents took the opportunity to witness the rare sight. From a moonlit vantage at North Point on Kwajalein, hundreds of Kwaj residents watched the three re-entry vehicles pierce the planet’s atmosphere in excess of 9,900 mph and strike the ocean in a dim orange glow, a faint sign of the ferocious impact between the vehicles and the water.

Minuteman III post-boost assembly breaks apart, releasing debris and chaff to burn up in atmosphere. Three faint lines emerge from the fire in this long-exposure shot; they are the three mock warheads.

The launch and re-entry test was part of the Air Force’s long-standing program put in place to evaluate the longevity and accuracy of America’s fleet of nuclear-armed Minuteman III ICBMs. These “glory trip” tests, as they are fondly described in the space and missile community, occur several times a year at America’s western missile test range. Each test involves a launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California and observation missions by personnel farther downrange, primarily at the Maui Air Force Optical Tracking Station and the Reagan Test Site at Kwajalein Atoll.

After the missile maintainers and launch officers at Vandenberg launch the ICBM, it’s the job of mission technicians and engineers in mobile observation platforms and at Maui and Kwajalein Atoll to study the missile’s health during each stage of its journey. Using computerized telescopes and powerful radars, personnel collect the missile’s performance data and track its payload as it careens along a ballistic flightpath that takes it up to 700 miles above the Earth’s surface, far outside the planet’s atmosphere. As the mock warhead post-boost vehicle assembly nears its destination at Kwajalein Atoll, the radar systems at the Kiernan Reentry Measurements System site on Roi-Namur play a major role in determining how close each warhead comes to hitting its pre-planned mark at the atoll. Because accuracy is paramount in these tests, data collected by motion- and impact-sensitive watercraft are also pulled in to corroborate the radar systems’ data and help inform Global Strike Command how accurately the warheads performed.

Each dazzling GT re-entry at Kwajalein Atoll wraps up the end of a long logistical preparation phase involving agencies spread throughout the Department of Defense. Starting the process is missile selection: An armed Minuteman III gets randomly pulled from the fleet of about 450 nuclear-armed ICBMs spread across Air Force Bases in Wyoming, North Dakota and Montana. Then the missile is transported to Vandenberg, the go-to site for all operational launches and missile tests in the western continental United States. Later, missile maintainers and launch officers from one of three 20th Air Force missile wings join contractors and government officials at Vandenberg to set up the missile for launch and turn the keys to send the ICBM flying.

For Thursday night’s test, Airmen from the 91st Missile Wing, from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, were pulled from their Minuteman III silos at Minot and assigned to perform the test launch alongside Global Strike Command’s 576th Flight Test Squadron, the latter of which is based at Vandenberg to help perform the GT missions with visiting Airmen. The squadron commander commended the Minot group for its performance during the test mission.

“The men and women from the 91st Missile Wing Task Force, the Airmen from my squadron, and our host unit here at Vandenberg worked tirelessly to pull this launch off—it was awesome to see everyone’s hard work pay off!” said Col. Craig Ramsey, 576th Flight Test Squadron commander, in an Air Force statement. “These Airmen make me proud every day, and efforts like these make nuclear deterrence effective.”

Keeping the Radars Humming

Feb. 4, 2017 Kwajalein Hourglass

When a foreign nation launches a satellite into orbit, the Department of Defense puts eyes on it quickly, turning to the historic nest of radars at the Kiernan Re-entry Measurement System Site on Roi-Namur.

In such a scenario, ALTAIR—a heavy hitter in U.S. space surveillance missions—pivots and tilts in a rush, each movement under the command of sensor operators in the United States. Staring into the reported direction of the launched spacecraft, the hulking radar spits out and sucks in streams of high-frequency electromagnetic waves, detects the “new foreign launch,” fixes on the satellite and tracks it along its orbit around Earth. High-bandwidth KREMS radars like MMW and ALCOR may take a handoff from ALTAIR at this point, switching on and homing in on the satellite’s location to provide detailed imagery of the vehicle—all of which gets packaged up and sent off to the intelligence agencies for further investigation.

It’s an exciting, complex ballet involving physics and national defense. It’s one of the primary missions of the KREMS radar bank at the northern tip of the atoll, and every time a new foreign launch is detected, the Reagan Test Site gets a reaffirmation of the strategic importance and daily utility of the Army and Air Force missions in the Marshalls.

But one crucial element in this chain of events is often overlooked.

If a mission is to track a new foreign launch, keep tabs on thousands of orbiting satellites each month or perform space object identifications of the growing field of man-made debris in orbit, that mission goes nowhere unless the Roi-Namur Power Plant can supply the juice to keep the sensors humming.

Roi-Namur Power Plant Electrician Jim Friedenstab checks the vital signs of the plant’s hulking diesel engines, always waiting for calls from RTS staff at the Kiernan Re-entry Measurement Site. .

“If the power goes down, you don’t have the radars,” says Roi rat Jim Friedenstab, an electrician at the power plant. “And the radars are the reason why we’re here.”

Operating a power plant that feeds an island grid built to power energy-hungry radars used for unpredictable tracking missions is not a normal power plant job. Other power plants are often able to source data to identify trends in energy usage and predict peak consumption times, making it easier to know how much energy will be needed when and where. On Roi, those predictive qualities are largely absent.

“Reactive is how I’d call it,” Friedenstab says, turning knobs on a long bank of machines that control the plant’s hulking diesel engines—the real hearts of the radars. Reactive as opposed to predictive, he says: There is no schedule of new foreign launches RTS can send to Friedenstab and his co-workers at the plant. Some satellite tracking and space object identification tasks are scheduled ahead of time and predictable; other regular missions surely aren’t. Not knowing when KREMS is going to need all the juice the plant can muster leaves plant personnel on edge, forcing them to be ready to act in a moment’s notice, Friedenstab says.

“When the radars call, we go,” he explains. “Because right now, I’m running the island on [several] engines. When the radars call, I’ve got to go at least one more engine. … Sometimes it can get to enough that [several] more engines are switched on.”

Constantly increasing and decreasing large amounts of voltage produced by the plant engines is a delicate balancing act that requires constant vigilance. Ensuring the safety of the grid and the people living and working on the island is a major part of Friedenstab’s job. Too little juice and systems “brown out.” Too much and you get fried equipment and exploded transformers.

“It’s a mad house,” he says. “It drives me nuts.”

The Roi Power Plant, like most, is a 24-hour operation. But, even at night, when the ovens, lights and water heaters are off and the grid energy usage low, the radars need to come online and to perform tracking missions. The process requires just as much work from the plant during the night as during the day. It’s a constant battle, Friedenstab says.

“There’s no holidays,” Friedenstab says. “No, ‘Hey, honey, I’m going to go put this on auto pilot, and we’re going to take off and go have Christmas dinner.”

Having now spent four years at the Roi-Namur Power Plant, it’s there that Friedenstab has worked some of the most demanding shifts of his nearly 30-year career as an industrial electrician. There’s a learning curve, he says, newcomers should be aware of.

“When you come in here, you don’t know nothing. And you better learn quick,” he says. “Because you’re expected to have an electrical knowledge. And it’s not rocket science. But at the same time, if you’re weak in [terms of] being an electrician, you’re not going to make it.”

Marshall Islands Mourn Passing of Leroij Seagull Kabua

Feb. 4, 2017 Kwajalein Hourglass

Leroij Seagull Kabua passed away Jan. 24, leaving tens of thousands of Marshallese in mourning. Younger sister to Iroijlaplap Imata Kabua, the paramount chief of the Ralik Chain of the Marshalls, she was one of the highest-ranking traditional leaders in the western Marshalls.

Scores of traditional chiefs, Kabua family members, RMI politicians and U.S. government personnel joined thousands of Ebeye residents Thursday on Ebeye to commemorate her life.

A slow, solemn boat procession carrying Kabua’s remains from Kwajalein allowed her family members to reflect both on the contributions she made to Marshallese society and the leadership vacuum she’s bound to leave behind. Sitting in the afternoon sun at the Ebeye pier, Iroij Mike Kabua, her brother, said one of her true passions was working to conserve the ways of the past. She had been a strong advocate of preserving and performing traditional Marshallese cultural customs and had devoted much of her life to organizing and helping women, her brother said. Ensuring the longevity of traditional weaving, handicraft making, Marshallese language and healthy homemaking and family relationships for her people were important to her, he said: “It was something that she really enjoyed.”

On arrival at the pier, RMI President Hilda Heine, RMI cabinet members, Kwajalein senators, foreign dignitaries and U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll leadership joined Kabua and his family, offering condolences. Having transferred the late leroij’s casket to a lead vehicle festooned with woven palm fronds, event directors led a 40-minute procession around the entire island, allowing the thousands of people gathered on the island to pay their respects.

At the Ebeye United Church of Christ, Jobwa Stick Dancers standing guard at the entrance of the building blew conch shells, signaling the final phase of the procession. Pall bearers adorned in traditional attire hoisted Kabua’s casket onto their shoulders and began a reverent procession into the church while the church choir and visitors sang hymns.

Speaking during the leroij’s funeral, RMI President Heine was joined by Iroijlaplap and former RMI President Christopher Loeak in commending Kabua’s contributions to her people and offering condolences to the loved ones she left behind.

Leroij Seagull Kabua was born in August 1950 on Enmat Island, located next to Nell, on the west reef of Kwajalein Atoll.