July 29, 2017 / JORDAN VINSON

There is a place on Kwajalein where long parkas and thick, black beanies are standard issue. A place where small chandeliers of ice grow above thermometer displays showing numbers like -13 F. It’s a place where all your bananas, yogurt, milk, eggs and TV dinners come from. And without it, you’d be eating nothing but canned beans and jerky. Welcome to Cold Storage, says Nikki Ellis, the Cold Storage Warehouse supervisor. The only person in the facility wearing a T-shirt, she gives me a tour of one of the most vital links in the distribution chain assembled on and off the garrison to supply residents with cold and frozen food items.

“It all comes from here,” Ellis says Tuesday, leading me through a door that opens up into the dark, icy warehouse. Men dressed in heavy winter clothing shuffle from pallet to pallet carrying stacks of stapled carbon paper order forms in their hands. They inspect the contents of boxes brimming with onions, lettuce and avocados and pull on manual forklifts. It seems to be bustling.

“Tuesday is a busy day,” Ellis affirms. “It’s produce day. We get fresh fruits and vegetables flown in every week. They [get] it to us, and we sort it every week.” Over the loud din of the refrigerator fan units overhead, the men inside look over the order forms in their hands, head into the inner, colder recesses of the warehouse to prep the next pallet for delivery somewhere on the garrison. The next order of frozen or chilled items could be going to any number of places: the Zamperini Dining Facility, Meck, Café Roi, Roi Surfway and ships at sea like the Coast Guard’s Sequoia. Yep, even the Coast Guardsmen need milk with their cereal. But because it’s Tuesday, most of the sorted pallets are heading to Surfway. Tucked into a stack of boxes filled with tomatoes, one of the order forms sticks out. It’s an order submitted to Cold Storage by Surfway Assistant Manager Joann Hermon. Ready for shipment, the pallet has been stationed next to a small entrance opening up into the early-afternoon Marshall Islands heat, and in a few minutes, a warehouse crewmember will pick up the pallet and take it down to the supermarket’s loading dock for the Tuesday evening rush.

A Cold Storage Warehouse lead since November 2016, Tom Barragan says working at the focal point of cold foods distribution on U.S. Army Garrison- Kwajalein Atoll is both rewarding and enjoyable.

“I’ve been doing this type of work for about 40 years,” Barragan says. “And it’s just really fun. Otherwise, if I didn’t like this I would have gotten out of it years ago. It’s a very rewarding job to know that we’re making sure that everybody gets fresh, edible food.”

Dressed like I just got off a sailboat, I know I’m not in the right clothing. But I want Ellis to take me into the other areas of the warehouse. Going through door after door, the ambient temperature inside the warehouse units sinks lower and lower . The 38 F sorting platform where the crew is still assembling deliverable pallets now seems much warmer than it was before. We pass crates of Go-Gurt and small mountains of eggs, 30-pound buckets of Bavarian cream filling and enough yard mulch-sized bags of cake batter to bake a cake as big as Ebeye.

Entering the coldest place on the garrison, I feel little part of me beginning to die. Under the dull green glow of the lights overhead, the thermometer reads 7 below zero, and it’s the deepest cold I’ve experienced in nearly a decade. I manage to snap a few photos of Ellis standing proudly in her T-shirt, all smiles, in front of a small snow bank growing out of the corner of the room. I last another two minutes before my ears and hands burn with pain, and I’ve got to bail. Surrounded by the heat of the doldrums in the steamy Marshall Islands, I’m still having a hard time understanding how these people do their jobs in such an environment. As I begin the thermal transition from subarctic temperatures, to the refrigerator-friendly 30s, to the office-standard 70 F, Ellis puts it bluntly enough: “You get used to it.”



It is summer time in the Marshalls, and that means great views of the Milky Way’s galactic core. To check it out, look south-southeast after sundown and fix on Scorpius, a large, popular constellation that looks like a scorpion— or, if you will, a giant fishhook. Look leftward a few degrees and fix on Sagittarius, the eight brightest stars of which resemble a sort of teapot. (Following ancient Greek beliefs, Sagittarius is really a centaur.) The true rotational center of the galaxy lies behind the star forming Sagittarius’ “spout” on its right side and the stars forming the tip of Scorpius’ venomous tail (or the pointy end of the fishhook). The bulge of the core encompasses this area and reaches northward a few degrees well into Ophiuchus, the serpent bearer.

Toward the northernmost portion of the bulge, you’ll notice a nice bright “star” that doesn’t flicker like nearby Antares, the red supergiant in Scorpius. That’s Saturn. Moving through orbit at an average speed of 515,000 mph, Saturn, Earth, the sun and the rest of the solar system take 230 million years to do a complete revolution around the galactic bulge. The last time we were in this position in orbit around the center of the Milky Way (in terms of our position relative to neighboring galaxies in the Local Group) it was the Triassic period on Earth, a time when the first dinosaurs and mam mals were evolving into distinct life forms.

Located nearly 30,000 light years from the core, the Earth’s vantage point of the entirety of the galaxy is somewhat limited. The NASA depiction above illustrates our position relative to the rest of our spiral-armed Milky Way. While we have brilliant views of the core and the galactic arms reaching outward on our “side” of the galaxy, we cannot see past the galactic bulge and enjoy the sights of the star clusters, nebulae and more lying “on the other side.”

There’s another thing astrophysicists cannot see but know is there. It’s the supermassive black hole lying at the dead center of the core. Named Sagittarius A, it is a massive emitter of radio waves and is believed to be spatially large enough to fill the orbit of Mercury and contain the mass of 40,000 suns.