SMDC History: Outside world affects quality of life on Kwajalein, Spring 1972

By Sharon Watkins Lang, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Command HistorianApril 14, 2017

SMDC History: Outside world affects quality of life on Kwajalein, Spring 1972
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The quality of life is an important factor to be addressed by every commander. This is particularly true for Soldiers, civilians and their families stationed in remote areas. Are the medical conditions sufficient, recreational opportunities appropriate and do the shopping facilities provide the necessary services?

In recent months, the loss of the internet, was a particular concern for the residents of Kwajalein Atoll as a damaged undersea cable was recovered and repaired. For three weeks, as the storm damage was repaired residents existed on a rationed access to on-line services and social media. These connections to the outside world are an important facet of life on an isolated island.

Forty-five years ago in the spring of 1972, Kwajalein residents experienced a similar situation. In the absence of a regular newspaper and television, the Kwajalein Hourglass typically sought to provide highlights from national and world news, with only a few sections that addressed the Kwajalein experience. Thus a double column devoted to a story, "Milk, Soft Drinks important on Kwaj," dated April 13, 1972, would suggest that it was a matter of concern for the residents.

Although the issue does not appear in the official history, it was apparently a frequent topic of discussion and regular updates were provided in the Hourglass. Unlike the recent incident, Mother Nature was not at fault. In this case, international politics and national economics had a direct impact on Kwajalein quality of life.

As the Hourglass reported, "during the last few weeks, milk has been the topic of discussion at many informal and formal gatherings." The discussion focused in particular on the availability of one of the most popular brands Sealtest milk, which was shipped frozen in cans.

The Sealtest brand was processed in factories in the northeastern and mid-western United States and apparently the primary market for this product in the Pacific region was Vietnam and Kwajalein. With the on-going reduction of troops in Vietnam, however, it was no longer economically feasible to ship these milk products to this market.

As the Hourglass editor noted the demand for milk had, "reduced to the point that the company stopped production."

To rectify the issue, Global Associates, the logistics support contractor for Kwajalein, conducted a search for a comparable milk product. They introduced Clover frozen milk packages which were "accepted quite well." Some consumers objected to the initial packaging, with one quart containers that yielded three quarts of milk, and a one-third carton was substituted in subsequent shipments.

The order must have been quite significant as the Clover brand sent a representative to the island in May 1972 to meet with Surfway customers to introduce and explain the best use of this product. Despite the concerns over the frozen milk, it should be noted that the community was not left without milk products. Throughout this period the Surfway continued to carry other milk products to include fresh milk as well as condensed and powdered milk.

In January 1971, Global Associates had revised the delivery system for fresh produce replacing shipments by jet aircraft from Honolulu with refrigerated vans transported via containerized ship. Like many of the other food stuffs and equipment then, they were shipped from Oakland, California, directly to Kwajalein. This reduced the costs and sought to ensure a regular means of shipment. Seatrain ships arrived at the island every 18-20 days.

In 1972 however, strikes by the Teamsters Union affected these shipments. Of particular concern in the April 13 Hourglass was the Teamsters' strike in California against Coca-Cola and other soft drink producers.

Typically the Kwajalein shops -- the Ten-Ten and Surfway -- were well stocked with cases of the soft drinks stacked high. The impact on Kwajalein was dramatic. As the Hourglass reported: "The shelves are bare. The supply on the island has been exhausted."

As in the previous case, the logistics contractor successfully addressed the issue. Global Associates purchased a shipment of Coca-Cola, "the most popular soft drink on Kwajalein" from a supplier in Arizona, bypassing the jurisdiction of the California strike. The shipment reached Oakland in time to load the next Seatrain ship. Unfortunately, the Seatrain Louisiana was not due to reach Kwajalein until 30 April.

On a positive note, the editor added that the Oakland strike was expected to be settled in the near future and no further shortages were anticipated on Kwajalein. Authorities also promised that regular schedules would be resumed and "the supplies of all items would improve in the near future."

In May however, the newspaper reported that the Teamsters' strike against bottling works in the San Francisco/Oakland area had not been resolved. Although another shipment of Coca-Cola, with 7,700 cases, had been purchased from outside California and was expected to reach Kwajalein in June, Canada Dry and Schweppes products were now in short supply.

In June, that company was forced to announce that "it would no longer be able to support military and export customers for the foreseeable future." The strikes would eventually end that summer but the event helps illustrate the relationship between Kwajalein residents and the logistics support services provided by Global Associates in Oakland and the Seatrain shipping company.

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