April 29, 2017 / JORDAN VINSON

Meet Joe Rubon. He is one of half a dozen Marshallese citizens whom Kwajalein Range Services hired in recent years to keep the Kiernan Re-entry Measurement System site on target in its mission to monitor space around the Earth for satellites, debris and foreign missile launches.

Rubon works at the ALTAIR radar complex, a place he’s called home for nearly seven years. As an ALTAIR transmitter field engineer, he’s part of the team on which the Reagan Test Site depends to continually perform space operations for the Space and Missile Defense Command. It’s a role he took up last year.

Rubon’s manager in the ALTAIR transmitter area, Engineer Allan Foreman, has seen Rubon rise up through the ranks and calls him one of the smartest and most hardworking and resourceful employees he’s had on Roi-Namur.

“He’s awesome. He was a plumber, and now he’s become very helpful fixing electrical problems,” Foreman said. “He’s really versatile.”

Always motivated to take on new challenges and unafraid to speak his mind to test drive new ideas, he’s what other ALTAIR managers define as the ultimate utility player.

“He’s well versed on the antenna and transmitters,” ALTAIR Transmitter Lead Adam Vail said. “I mean he literally knows the ins and outs of the facility.”

While transmitter operations is Rubon’s primary task at the radar, he also uses his experience from previous professions to fix plumbing and electrical issues. It’s a great resource to have on hand in a place filled with very expensive water-cooled electrical and mechanical components, his bosses said.

Tack on his multilingual skills, his continual effort to maintain the radar complex’s SDS and HAZMAT paperwork and his willingness to take on graveyard shifts and extra hours, and you’ve got an important asset for the ALTAIR team.

“If I had ten Joes, I could get rid of the rest of my workforce,” ALTAIR Sensor Lead Kenny Leines joked. “He’s the kind of guy that, if you could clone him, you would.”

A native of Jaluit Atoll, Rubon has spent most of his life on Enniburr. He got his first job on Roi-Namur, working on a roads and grounds maintenance crew. A three-year stint at the Public Works plumbing department lasted until 2009, after which he became an antenna tech at ALTAIR. From 2010 to 2016, he worked as a transmitter tech at the radar, and it was just last year that KRS promoted him (along with five other RMI citizens) to his current position as a transmitter field engineer.

As for what Rubon thinks about his new role with KRS at ALTAIR? “ALTAIR is a perfect place to work. A great place,” Rubon said. “The only word I can [use to] describe it is epic.”



Like many Pacific islanders, folklore and spoken tales were extremely important tools around which traditional Marshal­lese communities organized themselves, set ethical norms and taught younger generations about how to live as Marshallese.

Many Marshallese mythological tales sprouted purely out of the creative minds of those who told them, such as the myth of the nonieb, the invisible island dwarves that make themselves known only to certain individual Marshallese. Other tales have their roots in the night sky. Similar to how ancient Hellenic so­cieties assigned creative stories and background context to groups of stars and the planets (Take Orion the Hunter, for in­stance.), the traditional Marshallese came up with their own constellations, but based them on aspects of their own culture. Instead of rams, bulls and lions, there may be breadfruits, frig­ates and canoes.

The story of Jebro is an example of a spoken tale derived from the unique Marshallese cultural interpretation of the stars in the night sky. One of the most popular tales still known today, the story follows brothers Jebro, Lumur and their mother Loktanur on an epic canoe race across Ailinglaplap Atoll, an atoll located about 120 miles south of Kwajalein Atoll.

The story goes like this: The race pits the many sons of Lok­tanur against one another to see who could travel by canoe the quickest from Woja, the westernmost island of Ailinglaplap atoll (where Loktanur and her sons live), to Je, located more than 30 miles away to the northeast. The winner of the race becomes Iroij (king) of the East.

As the sons dash off the beach on Woja into the lagoon to begin the race, Loktanur, who has a large bundle of clunky material at her feet, calls out to her sons to let her on one of the boats to join the race. Seeing that she wants to bring a bunch of extra weight on board, the sons dismiss her call one by one. Tumur, the old­est son, shouts that she should go on the canoe of Mejdikdik, the second oldest son. Paddling out into the water, Mejdikdik tells his mother to go with Majlep, who in turn dismisses the request and tells her to go with Majetadik. So it goes with each brother, each one passing the burden onto the younger one. That is until Jebro, the youngest of all the sons, gets the request.

Jebro stops paddling, and Loktanur tells him to beach his ca­noe. “What do you mean beach!” Jebro yells. “The race has be­gun. Hurry, or we’ll be too late!”

“Beach your canoe,” Loktanur tells Jebro. “Then help me bring my stuff.” Jebro looks at the big bundle of heavy, useless junk at her feet and is dismayed.

“Jij! This is a race,” Jebro sighs. “How can I paddle that stuff against the wind?” Finally, casting away any hope of winning the contest, Jebro gives up, beaches the canoe and helps his mother bring her stuff onboard. Once everything is onboard, Loktanur gets to work, and to her son’s surprise, her pile of junk isn’t junk after all. It’s a sail.

Made of woven pandanus leaves, the sail is unfurled by Loktanur’s confident hands and attached to a makeshift mast. Having never seen a sail before, men from the village on Woja crowd around the boat and stand back, amazed at how effortlessly the canoe cuts through the water with the wind.

The era of travel via pure muscle power was over, and the era of sailing had begun.

Together, Jebro and Loktanur travel quickly, working the sail’s sheet to adjust for wind directions, and make up for lost time, catching up to the brothers paddling their way to Je. Halfway to Je, they come across Lumur, the oldest son, who is now too tired from paddling to go on. Taking pity on his brother, Jebro stops the canoe and helps Lumur aboard, but Lumur quickly takes control of the boat and throws his mother overboard. Jebro cuts one of the sail lines and jumps in after her, and together they swim east to Je.

Lumur, with the sail sabotaged by Jebro, and not knowing how to properly sail the canoe, makes little progress and eventually starts drifting back to the west. Jebro and Loktanur, meanwhile, swim on and on and at dawn finally reach Je, the “Island of Sun­rise.” Jebro has won the race.

After drifting all the way back to Woja, Lumur finishes re­pairing the sail and sets off for Je once again. Some time later he reaches shore and, thinking Jebro has drowned, claims first place for himself. But when Jebro comes out onto the beach, showing that he is the true winner and true Iroij of the East and now the Iroij of Ailinglaplap Atoll, he shames Lumur for his aw­ful treatment of his mother and disdain for everyone else. Lu­mur turns away, sails back to the west and never again looks at his brother.

Today, Jebro is immortalized as Jeleilon, the constellation that the Western world calls Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters. It was a traditional waypoint in the sky that skilled Marshallese naviga­tors used to help guide them on their ocean sailing voyages. Je­bro is synonymous with endurance, security, peace and love. The information for this article was obtained from Gerald Knight’s “A History of the Marshall Islands” and “Life in the Republic of the Marshall Islands,” by Anono Lieom Loeak, et al.



Meet Hesbon Jokas and Jerry Samuel. They are two members of a small group of Marshallese citizens employed by Kwajalein Range Services to keep the Kiernan Re-entry Measurement System site on target in its mis­sion to monitor space around the Earth for satellites, debris and foreign missile launches.

Both Jokas and Samuel work at the TRADEX radar complex on Namur. They transitioned into their current roles from other jobs with the KRS team, and both have been working on island since the 1990s. Samuel has worked at the radar since 2009, when he was hired by TRADEX Antenna Lead Conrad Nakasone. Jokas was brought in to join the team in 2015.

As radar technicians, they busy themselves with constant maintenance and troubleshoot­ing jobs on the radar antenna and radar re­ceiver system. The goal is to keep the sensor continually pirouetting on its axes and track­ing targets in orbit.

They tend to the radar’s water, air and oil lines and fix issues with the brakes and motors used to physically steer the massive dish. They chip and paint the radar structure to prevent corrosion in the atoll’s harsh saline winds, and they do a lot of welding and piping work as crews make improvements to the ra­dar system during preventative maintenance projects.

Samuel, a Third Island native whom TRA­DEX Sensor Manager Jeff Jones calls a master welder and fabricator, has been integral to the radar team’s performance during the last eight years, Jones says.

“He’s the best welder on this island – bar none,” Jones says. “That’s his claim to fame. And he’s a great fabricator.”

Both Jokas, a relative newcomer, whom Jones describes as a “jack of all trades who will help out anybody” and Samuel have recently stepped into new, more technical roles. Now, either can be called upon to work the radar’s transmitter system during space surveillance operations. That makes them a crucial pool of support whom TRADEX managers can rely on when there are staffing shortages, Jones says.

Jokas, a Utirik Atoll native, says the new role has been a rewarding challenge, and that he has enjoyed getting up to speed at the radar. “I’ve been learning a lot,” he says. “There are lots of new things. If new things come through, we have to learn how to do it. It’s a great job.”