AT THE CONTROLS – FLYING THE LAKOTAS

MARCH 11, 2017 / JORDAN VINSON

Cocooned in a small, cozy cockpit washed in late morning sunlight, Maj. John Osterson and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Billy Kilgore flick a few switches at a control panel. The Army Lakota UH-72A the two men are piloting comes alive. Motors switch on, turbines turn and a dozen gauge needles jump to life. Several audible beeps emanate from the cockpit while the pilots run through their final preflight checklists. They focus on stuff like fuel quantity, rotor brakes and oil pressure. You know, the important stuff—the systems pilots want to make sure are 100 percent when they’re hovering at 10,000 feet in a chunk of metal that can careen down the gravity well back to the planet’s surface. A few minutes later, the pumpkin-orange Lakota’s rotors now whir. The fuselage shakes, and the passengers inside—three Americans and two Australians—rattle. Fiddling with their headsets, they watch an airport operations crewman, LaDon Daniels, give the green light for takeoff.

“Departing in five, four, three, two, one,” Kilgore says into his headset on a common band shared with the passengers inside. Osterson shimmies the cockpit cyclic stick, works his foot pedals and opens up the throttle, lifting the helicopter gingerly off the tarmac and sending it strafing east 10 feet off the ground like a giant hover board. Gaining altitude, he puts the helicopter into a slight bank and flies us over ocean-side breakers exploding on the reef, putting distance between the helicopter and the island of Kwajalein opening up below. He points the nose of the Lakota north-northwest, and we head toward Enubuj to begin a loop of the small islets making up U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll.

WEARING MANY HATS

For Kilgore and Osterson, not every workday is like this. Flying, in fact, is only about 10 percent of what the Soldiers do as Army aviators.

“Our primary roles out here are not necessarily to be pilots,” Kilgore says later after the flight. As the USAG-KA director of logistics, Osterson approves contractor flights on Army aircraft or DoD-contracted aircraft, reviews flight schedules, grants visitors’ permission to the land at Bucholz Army Airfield and directs airfield operations. And as the garrison’s aviation safety officer, Kilgore share’s Osterson’s duties and has his own special suite of responsibilities. Working as a technical monitor for the aviation portion of the USAG-KA operations contract, the chief assesses the performance of Berry Aviation, Chugach and PAE, all of which occupy different roles in USAG-KA aviation, from Lakota maintenance projects to local Metroliner flights and inbound and outbound ATI and United flights.

It’s a lot of work behind a desk, Kilgore says matter-of-factly, looking down at the Fitbit on his wrist. “I worked 10 hours the other day and only walked about 3,000 steps. It’s amazing how sedentary you can get.”

It’s one of the reasons the two relish the moments they get to swap their keyboards and computer monitors for cyclic sticks and helicopter windshields. As government flight representatives, the two must be rated aviators, and that means time in the cockpit.

“Flying is the number one thing I like about my job,” Osterson says, and

Kilgore agrees: “It allows me to have interaction with the entire community, not just the military. … I get to see more of the atoll than most people get to see, and I get to see it on a weekly basis, sometimes daily basis. The views are spectacular; they never get old. Even though it’s a very small, local flying area, the views are phenomenal.”

Both pilots have a big place in their hearts for the Black Hawk, a larger airframe they’ve spent much of their time in during their Army careers, especially during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. But they point to the lighter utility Lakota as the best fit for the unique missions and geography of the test site and garrison at Kwajalein Atoll. It may not be as sporty, fast or maneuverable as the Black Hawk, but it gets the job done efficiently and at low cost, they say.

During the hours Kilgore and Osterson set aside to get flight time each week, they use the Lakotas to run out Reagan Test Site staff and supplies to garrison islands like Legan, Illeginni, Gagan and Meck. This is the core purpose of maintaining and flying the Lakota aircraft on Kwajalein Atoll, Kilgore says: “It’s a rapid and efficient means of transportation to the outer islands, to get people to work every day and pick them up at the end of the day. That’s the Lakota’s primary function.”

Our flight on this day is different, though. When distinguished visitors and Department of Defense partners stop by the garrison as Army guests, the pilots may use their flight hours to show the individuals around and give them a lay of the land. Much like the security surveillance reef sweeps the pilots perform before any major military operation on the range, a trip like this around the atoll gives guests dense visual packets of information about the range, garrison and atoll they cannot get by skimming PowerPoint slides.

For today’s guests, two Royal Australian Navy sea patrol experts, a reef swap could be particularly helpful. Assigned by the Australian Navy to help the Marshall Islands ward off illegal fishing vessel incursions into the RMI’s exclusive economic zone, they’re invited by USAG-KA Host Nations Director Maj. Dan Lacaria to use the flight opportunity to see, with their own eyes, the layout and vastness of one of the largest atolls in the world. What they learn on the flight may help them determine where the RMI government might dispatch patrol vessels to counter illegal trawlers coming into the region from Southeast Asia.

HUNDREDS OF BLUES

Back on the flight, we coast over Enubuj (Carlson), and the Aussies stare outside the fuselage of the Lakota, wearing smiles. Kilgore issues a barrage of factoids he’s learned about the atoll and its islands, people and history over his roughly two years of service as a government flight representative at USAG-KA. He explains details of the different reef passes in the area—which passes are suitable for large vessels and which passes may beat up on the hulls of larger boats. Strapped tight onto either bench in the fuselage, the Aussies nod, listening to Kilgore’s tinny voice piping in through their headsets. He continues, telling of past search and rescue efforts involving lost or damaged boats in the area. When the Lakota circles the wreck of the Prinz Eugen, he explains the German heavy cruiser’s history, its role during the 1946 Operation Crossroads nuclear weapons tests and how the 700-foot ship ended up turning turtle in the lagoon only meters off Enubuj. Flying north, the pilots give a cursory description of Reagan Test Site mission assets on Legan and Illeginni and boast of the small islands’ importance to the optical imaging mission at the test range. Old, grass-covered pockmarks on the helipad at Illeginni show signs of intercontinental ballistic missile re-entry vehicle strikes performed on the island many years ago.

Entering waters northwest of Illeginni, Osterson takes the Lakota down to a couple of thousand feet, and the air in the helicopter becomes hotter. “We might see some big fish balls and bird piles today,” Kilgore says, switching the topic of his monologue from RTS capabilities and atoll history to the importance of sport fishing to the garrison community. Peering through dark visors shielding their upper faces from the harsh sunlight piercing the cockpit, Osterson and Kilgore peer off their respective sides of the helicopter down at the navy blue water below. On cue, Osterson spots a swathe of water boiling like mad. Hundreds of birds—black noddies likely—flap their wings, diving and rising, a sign of a feeding frenzy happening below. The pilot slows the Lakota down and puts it into a steep bank, turning up the gravity inside the fuselage and pushing our bodies and bellies into our seats. We circle the boiling water to get a better look, and there it is: Like the tongue of Cthulhu rising from the depths, a massive column of mahi mahi shoots to the water’s agitated surface. Their long, blue-green, metallic-looking bodies glint sunlight, and there are hundreds of them, all feeding on small fish huddled together for protection under the water’s surface.

“That’s a good one,” one of the pilots says in our headsets, releasing us from our banking ellipse and pointing us onward. A gleaming white yacht, is spotted. Osterson slows the Lakota to get a closer look at the catamaran, something the pilots often do when they find boats on the ocean. “Whenever we see boats ocean-side, we tend to just go circle them real quick and make sure they’re OK,” Kilgore explains later. “You never know when you may fly over a vessel out there in the water that may be in distress and may not have radio communication for whatever reason.”

No apparent problems with the vessel crew below, Osterson points the aircraft northeast toward Roi-Namur and puts on the brakes about 15 miles away. We can’t fly over Roi today due to radar operations, Kilgore tells us, and the Aussies look out the starboard window, eyeing the island in the distance. The hulking metal body of the ALTAIR radar is easily discernible—little, white pimple perched atop a small flat green pancake bridled by the Pacific.

“How high can you take these helicopters,” I say into my headset as we turn back southeast. 14,000 feet, Kilgore replies—about three times the cruising altitude of the Metro flights most USAG-KA residents are used to.

“Want to go up?” he asks, and the pilots fly us slowly toward the long, lonely, landless stretch of reef between Gagan and Gellinam known as the Takamushikan Reef. A few silent minutes pass as we ascend. Kilgore points down at the diminishing reef to a splotch of dark residue covering a swathe of reef. “That’s the remains of the RO-60 submarine,” he says. The WWII-era Japanese sub had been attached to the Japanese Navy’s Fourth Fleet at Kwajalein Atoll. A participant of the Dec. 1941 invasion of Wake Atoll, it ran aground onto the reef about 17 miles south of Roi-Namur during its return from Wake. There it lay for decades before enough Japanese and U.S. explosive disposal operations and target practice reduced it to the coal-black skid mark it is today.

The RO-60 blemish shrinks as we continue our ascent, and the air in the fuselage becomes colder.

“We come up here for a little air conditioning,” Kilgore says as we crest 10,000 feet and hold. Looking over my shoulder, I see Osterson has popped open a little side window panel to his left to let in the cool air, which has reachd nearly 10 degrees Celcius cooler than the balmy heat we experienced at lower altitudes.

The whirring of the rotors and the vibrations running through the fuselage do nothing to shake the serenity of the view. Small puffs of low-lying cumulus clouds march slowly westward, casting slight shadows on the flat, featureless ocean sprawling to the horizon. We’re too high to discern any white caps on the water’s surface. A gradient of 100 blues stretches from horizon to zenith.

Circling back south, we leave the Takamushikan Reef and fly onward, passing Gagan, Meck, Gugeegue, the causeway islands and Ebeye. Osterson, Kilgore and Lacaria talk host nations stuff with the Aussies. They touch briefly on the history of the island causeway linking Ebeye to Gugeegue, the recent passing of Leroij Seagull Kabua, the story of Ebeye and more. We motor back to Kwajalein and hover over the lagoon while waiting for an incoming ATI flight to land. From our height, the Boeing 757 looks like a toy model scooting down on a tiny landing strip, a counterpoint to the sheer largeness of everything our eyes took in a short time ago at 10,000 feet. The pilots busy themselves pointing out to the Aussies some of the garrison’s marine assets lining the western rim of the island, and within a few minutes word comes over their radio we’re clear to land. Osterson touches the Lakota down onto the tarmac and shuts the engine down. When the rotors stop moving, the Australian Navy personnel leave with further questions for the Host Nations director, and the pilots turn the Lakota over to the ground crew outside the terminal building. They come inside to chat and grab a cup of coffee.

The mission of the Lakota aircraft on the garrison and the test site is monumental, the pilots explain, and they make it a point to emphasize the importance of the helicopter maintenance crew on USAG-KA, where weather conditions—salt spray, wind, humidity and so on—are 22 times more corrosive than they are on average in the States, they say. “Our helicopters spend more time outdoors than the Metroliners,” Kilgore says. “And so, they’re very labor intensive, very maintenance intensive aircraft. … [The maintenance crew is] working on them every day, whether that’s washing them, waxing them, turning wrenches on them, whatever the case may be. They’re putting in a lot of hours on these birds to keep them flying.” It’s clear the pilots could go on for an hour talking about how grateful they are to the mechanics putting in the legwork on the helicopters. I divert them with another question.

Asked whether they’ll continue to fly well into the future, Osterson says he’s sure of it; whether he transitions to fixed wing airframes or stays with helicopters, only time will tell, he says. I assume the chief will continue flying, essentially forever; I can’t not see it. “You go where the jobs are,” he counters. “I hold my FAA rating, so I can go into the civilian community and fly if I want to. So that is one option. But I have other options as well. You can only fly as long as you keep passing your physical,” he adds, laughing.

Regardless of what lies in their futures, the pilots say they’re grateful for the positions they currently hold. “Nowhere else in the world can we have a job like this as Army aviators,” Kilgore says. “It’s very unique. And it’s very unique in what we do every day. And the type of flying that we do, and just the roles and responsibilities and what we contribute to the garrison and hopefully contribute to and give back to the community by what we do. It’s very rewarding.” Turning away, the pilots head back into the airport base operations office and prep for their next flight set to depart in less than an hour. This time it’s a passenger transport run to the outer RTS islands we flew over only minutes ago.

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

Link to cached, digital version: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:qANNVmICzJQJ:archive.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/in-death-marine-returns-to-island-where-he-survived-battle-b99437393z1-291225981.html+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

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

Link to online version: http://bicycletimesmag.com/feature-bikes-in-paradise/

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.

SMDC Commander Briefs Kwajalein Community

During a speaking event Wednesday, Jan. 18 at the KHS Multi-Purpose Room on Kwajalein, Lt. Gen. James Dickinson, addresses Reagan Test Site personnel, U.S. Army Garrison Kwajalein Atoll Command staff, DOD civilians, Kwajalein residents, off-island visitors and the U.S. Ambassador to the RMI.

Jordan Vinson, for the U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll’s Kwajalein Hourglass

Lt. Gen. James Dickinson, the newly appointed command­ing general of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Com­mand, made his first visit to the Reagan Test Site on U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll this week. It was an opportunity for the former U.S. Strategic Command chief of staff to get a ground tour of RTS facilities on Kwajalein Atoll, receive briefings on RTS orbital tracking and anti-ballistic missile missions and meet the men and women who make RTS and USAG-KA tick.

During a speaking event Wednesday, Jan. 18, Dickinson made it a point to emphasize that his first work trip out of Redstone Arsenal after assuming command should be Kwajalein Atoll.

“It’s very, very important what happens out here,” Dickin­son told a crowd of island residents and off-island visitors at the Kwajalein High School Multi-Purpose Room. “Important enough that … this is my first trip. I wanted to come here first and then continue onward to Fort Greely, Alaska.”

It’s there in the subarctic that Soldiers of the 49th Missile Defense Battalion man some of the deployed anti-interconti­nental ballistic missile interceptors that form the backbone of the Missile Defense Agency’s Ground-Based Midcourse De­fense system. As the senior commander of both Fort Greely and RTS—which plays a major role in all GMD flight tests—Dickin­son’s eagerness to put eyes on the Kwajalein Atoll element of the sweeping system was apparent.

The general led a viewing of the SMDC’s new command mis­sion video, designed to provide an engaging five-minute over­view of the agency’s current capabilities and emerging tech­nology testing programs, and he said he was happy to see how often RTS sensors, facilities and personnel are featured in the video package. Everything from Kiernan Re-entry Measure­ment Site radars to the Kwajalein Mission Control Center make an appearance. It’s a reflection, Dickinson said, of the strategic importance of the test site and the hard work of the people who operate it.

“The mantra is that the sun never sets on SMDC/ARSTART,” Dickinson said. “That’s because we have Soldiers across 11 time zones and 22 different locations around the world. You are one of them.”

Dickinson also took a moment to reflect on not only the ca­maraderie of the people behind the Kwajalein Atoll mission, but also the quality of life available to those who live and work here.

“Coming out here, my impression is this is a great team,” he said. “Particularly with the seamlessness between the op­erations piece, the garrison piece, the testing piece and having families and programs here on the island to support all that. … You can come out here and spend an indefinite period of time … and have all of these creature comforts that you have [in such a remote place.]”

Dickinson ended his address to the Kwajalein community with an optimistic message, reflecting on mission and garri­son funding and the recent transition of responsibilities for base oversight from the SMDC to the Installation Manage­ment Command.

“I’m your advocate, one of the advocates for the quality of life and mission support out here … And, again, it’s a very im­portant job,” Dickinson said. “I think you’re on a great path with funding and some of the [transitions] that have occurred over the past year or so. So, I’m optimistic about your future, in terms of the strategic plan.”

YOUR NIGHT SKY IN THE RMI – ANDROMEDA GALAXY

JAN. 7, 2017 / JORDAN VINSON

Did you know you can see another galaxy with the naked eye from the Marshall Is­lands during this time of the year? It’s the Andromeda Galaxy, aka M31. At 2. 5 million light years away it’s the most distant object visible to the unaided eye, especially during times of little or no moonlight.

It lives in the constellation Andromeda, which sits high in the night sky at 8 p.m. this time of year. Look directly north (or more toward the west if it’s a later time during the night) for the easy-to-spot constellation Cassiopeia, which looks like a semi-flattened “m.” You can’t miss Cassiopeia. Look further “upward” above Cassiopeia, and you’ll find Andromeda. Its principal structure con­sists (mostly) of one long arc of five bright stars (and some dimmer ones) stretching east to west overtop Cassiopeia. The length of the constellation is about double that of Cassiopeia. At this time of night, it connects into the bottom right of a large square-shaped constellation called Pegasus.

Now that Andromeda’s arching line of stars is located, look back down to Cassiopeia. The left “ ” of Cassiopeia forms a triangle that points almost di­rectly up to one of those bright stars in the arch of Andromeda. That’s Mirach. The Andromeda Galaxy is located “down and to the left” a few degrees from Mirach. You can actually follow a trail of two stars shooting downward and leftward from Mirach, tak­ing you directly to M31.

It’s not going to look like much to the naked eye, but if you avert your eyes away from the galaxy’s location you’ll be able to use your eye’s more sen­sitive rod cells to suck up more light than by look­ing directly at the target. You should see a small smudge of light.

It’s highly recommended you bring out a pair of binoculars. With even bargain optics, M31 will look much more impressive, with a more defined, light emitting core and a considerably long halo. That halo comprises the arms of the spiral struc­ture surrounding it. Binoculars bonus: Scoot your binoculars a little further “downward” from M31, and you’ll see an even smaller smudge of light. That’s M32, a dwarf elliptical satellite galaxy orbiting M31. It’s nothing compared to the An­dromeda Galaxy, with a length of approximately 220,000 light years and one trillion stars—or roughly double the size and mass of the Milky Way.

Fun fact: M31 is coming right for us. Astrono­mers predict the Andromeda Galaxy will slam into the Milky Way in about 4.5 billion years, forever changing the structures of each galaxy.

Ebeye Local Government Briefs U.S. Ambassador on Progress

Kwajalein Atoll Senator David Paul, left, briefs U.S. Ambassador to the Marshall Islands Karen Stewart on the progress of development projects in the island community of Ebeye in September 2010.

Jordan Vinson, for the U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll’s Kwajalein Hourglass

Karen Stewart, the United States’ new­est ambassador to the Marshall Islands, flew to Kwajalein Atoll this week to meet local RMI leaders and the U.S. Army Gar­rison-Kwajalein Atoll Command team. During a three-day visit away from the U.S. embassy in Majuro, Stewart joined Matthew Mathews, the State Depart­ment’s deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, visiting from his post in Washington, D.C. Together, they received briefings on sweeping development projects slated for Ebeye and met with the men and women driving the space and missile missions of the Reagan Test Site and the garrison which houses it.

During a Sept. 7 meeting on Ebeye, Kwajalein Atoll Sen. David Paul, a resi­dent and native of Ebeye, highlighted for Stewart and Matthews the litany of chal­lenges facing the island population of 12,000. The newcomer to senatorial of­fice explained plans to incubate bold ad­vancements to counter issues relating to health, education and the community’s aging infrastructure.

Doubling as chairman of the board of the Kwajalein Atoll Development Authority, Paul spoke to the visitors at length about the high-profile $19 million overhaul of the community’s water, sew­age and sanitation distribution system. Funded by the United States, Australia and the Asian Development Bank, con­tractors broke ground on the project in April 2015 and are scheduled to finish in four years.

In the meantime, a new reverse osmo­sis system should be built and switched on early next year, Paul said. Fed by water pumped up from the islet’s freshwater lens, the new station will be able to pro­duce 500,000 gallons of potable water every 24 hours, a sizeable increase from the current station’s capacity of 180,000 gallons per day. The station’s ribbon cut­ting planned for February should be a welcome relief for Ebeye residents, all of whom this year experienced, in no small measure, the effects of extreme drought during one of the strongest El Niño sys­tems on record.

While the threat of climate change was a point of discussion during the group’s talks, Paul emphasized the importance of renewable energy to the future of Ebeye, Kwajalein Atoll and the greater Marshall Islands. Working with U.S. solar power system manufacturer SolarCity, Paul ex­plained the goal of shifting 40 percent of the island’s electricity consumption to solar energy in coming years. The move, funded by grants and low-inter­est financing from the World Bank and other international organizations, could equate to serious fuel savings, which could fuel other projects, he said.

“Depending on the cost of fuel, we’re talking about $1.2 million to $1.6 million [in savings] a year,” he told Stewart and Matthews. “These are the initiatives that we are trying take ourselves so that we can continue to reduce our costs.”

With respect to the Marshall Islands’ ongoing clamor for a reduction of green­house emissions, a large-scale conver­sion to solar energy would also send out important political signals to the inter­national community, Paul said.

Kwajalein Atoll Senator David Paul, left, briefs U.S. Ambassador to the Marshall Islands Karen Stewart on the progress of development projects in the island community of Ebeye in September 2010.

The fact that the community plans to generate electricity the old fashioned way—going to the extent of purchasing new diesel generators—should not call into question his government’s dedica­tion to the effort, Paul said.

“What we want is stability,” he told the visitors. “When we bring in new genera­tors, the world is going to look and [say], ‘Hey, you guys are telling us to reduce our emittance on CO2, but then you guys are investing in conventional technolo­gies for electricity.’ What we’re doing is telling them, ‘Hey, we still need have power, right? But at least we’re making the effort to reduce our … global emis­sions to zero percent.’”

Paul’s and his staff’s plans for meet­ing these development goals and fur­ther goals down the road could all go by the wayside should they prove unable to modernize the system by which land lease agreements are created on Ebeye and the other causeway communities. In order to build anything, ranging from a private home to a public medical clinic or a public sewer pipeline running along a neighborhood street, mortgagors, inves­tors and project managers must current­ly work their way through a complicated system with individual landowners. It’s an unorganized an ineffective land ten­ure system that inhibits investment se­curity over the long haul—and can even drive away some investment opportu­nities, Paul told the group. The World Bank, for instance, has allocated $45 mil­lion for the construction of coastal pro­tection measures on Ebeye and all the way up the causeway to Ninji, Paul said; however no funds will be release until the senator and his team can provide le­gal proof that those investments will be secure over the long term.

The implementation of what Paul de­scribed as a master lease plan could re­solve the problem, he told Stewart and Matthews.

He used private home construction as an example.

“If you look at most of the houses on Ebeye, they’re considered makeshift,” the senator explained. “Because, you know, it really boils down to economic security, right? If you don’t have a valid lease, there’s really no collateral, no se­curity for that mortgage that you’re tak­ing out. So if you’re taking out $100,000 mortgage to build a house and there’s no land security. You have to be able to comfortably take that out, and no bank will lend that money to you. So with this lease in place, we’ll facilitate all of that.”

In other words, the Kwajalein Atoll Development Authority would step in and serve as a “one stop shop,” Paul said.

“We would be the one to give you that permission. And then you can take it to the bank, and the bank would actually commission that financing.”

The plan is ambitious. And while offi­cials view it as a necessity for long-term development in the local island commu­nities, it could take 10-15 years to fully implement, the senator said.

After their meetings with Paul, Stew­art and Matthews took the opportunity Wednesday to tour Ebeye’s current re­verse osmosis station, power plant, hospital and the causeway before flying north to visit the people of Enniburr.

Also part of their stay on the atoll were briefings with Reagan Test Site staff members’ about their missions in orbital tracking, foreign launch intelli­gence and weapons testing for the Army, the Air Force and Department of Defense clients. Matthews flew to the Federated States of Micronesia Thursday, continu­ing his tour of Micronesia, and Stewart returned to Majuro the following day.