KOROR, Palau - Nearly the entirety of the Pacific Ocean separates the United States from the Republic of Palau. While the physical distance between the two countries is considerable, in terms of historical, social and cultural ties, the U.S. and Palau enjoy a close relationship. During World War II, Palau was a location of immense strategic importance and the scene of many bloody battles between the U.S. and Japan. Since this time, Palau continues to be a strategically important location and the U.S. has maintained a close and mutually beneficial relationship to the country and people of Palau.
Similarly, the current president of the Republic of Palau, President Surangel Whipps Jr. shares a close and personal relationship to the U.S.
“My father joined the U.S. Army as a medic and moved to the U.S. in the 1960s. After finishing his service, he attended the University of Baltimore, where he met my mother, Marilyn. Not long after, in 1969, I was born there,” said Whipps Jr.
As one of the Compact of Free Association States, the citizens of Palau have the opportunity to move freely without a visa to the U.S. and can volunteer to serve as a member of the U.S. military. With a population of just over 20,000, Palau contributes more U.S. military volunteers per capita than any state of the union.
“My father, as well as countless other Palauans served or have served in the U.S. military. It’s a proud tradition among Palauans to serve. Service teaches useful skills and allows access to education and more economic opportunity. However, it is my hope that these Palauans, after finishing their service, would come back to Palau and use these skills to benefit the local community here,” said Whipps Jr.
While enlistment in the U.S. military often takes Palauans out of Palau, the U.S. military has and continues to maintain a continuous presence in the region in the form of various exercises and rotational engagements. All components of the U.S. military conduct regular, temporary missions and training events in Palau each year. Whipps Jr. stressed the benefits of continued U.S. presence in the region.
“The people of Palau welcome the (U.S.) military. We think it’s a great opportunity for us to both provide security and stability to the region but at the same time, provide economic opportunities to our people and help them achieve their Palauan dream in Palau,” said Whipps Jr.
The nature of U.S. military presence in Palau was not always temporary. From 1945 to 1978 the U.S Coast Guard conducted permanent operations from Angaur, a small island to the south of Koror. For Whipps Jr., a more permanent U.S. presence in Palau would be a welcomed boon to both the security and stability of Palau.
“I recently took a trip down to the islands along the southern edge of Palau; Hathobei and Tobi Island. I witnessed firsthand instances of illegal fishing taking place in the waters surrounding these islands. Currently, Palau’s Marine Law Enforcement confronts fishermen who illegally fish our waters, but violators continue to operate. I believe having the U.S. Coast Guard in Angaur again would be great. I believe their presence would ensure our borders are respected,” said Whipps Jr.
Task Force Oceania stands ready to work in cooperation with the Republic of Palau in order to foster a continued positive relationship in Palau and the entire Oceania region. As a task force which employs members of the active duty Army, the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard, TF Oceania deploys Civil Affairs teams to Pacific island nations with a primary mission to assist the State Department in the planning and execution of both military and civilian engagements throughout the region.