Col. Thomas Pugsley Assumes Command of U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll

By Jessica DambruchJuly 2, 2021

U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll Commander Col. Thomas Pugsley, center, and outgoing Col. Jeremy Bartel, left, return the USAG-KA unit colors to Command Sgt. Maj. Ismael Ortega, right, at the USAG-KA Change of Command Ceremony June 30, 2021.
U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll Commander Col. Thomas Pugsley, center, and outgoing Col. Jeremy Bartel, left, return the USAG-KA unit colors to Command Sgt. Maj. Ismael Ortega, right, at the USAG-KA Change of Command Ceremony June 30, 2021. (Photo Credit: Jessica Dambruch) VIEW ORIGINAL

Sharing heartfelt gratitude and words of welcome, more than 300 distinguished guests, traditional leaders, diplomatic visitors, government leaders and personnel from the Republic of the Marshall Islands and United States witnessed a milestone in Kwajalein history June 30, as incoming Col. Thomas Pugsley accepted command of U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll from Col. Jeremy Bartel during the USAG-KA Change of Command Ceremony.

Proceedings in the ceremony at the island Flight Hangar were bittersweet, as leaders took to the podium before two Lakota helicopters and a Fairchild metroliner to show their appreciation for the colonels—the former with a welcome, and the latter with thanks and recognition for his many valuable contributions and friendship.

Joining the Soldiers were special guest speakers RMI Minister of Finance, Banking and Postal Services Alfred Alfred Jr. and U.S. Embassy Majuro Deputy Chief of Mission Jeremiah Knight, chargé d'affaires for U.S. Ambassador Roxanne Cabral. Two keynote speakers delivered their remarks virtually: Lt. Gen. Daniel Karbler, commander, U.S. Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, Alabama; and Craig Deatrick, director, Installation Management Command-Pacific, at Fort Shafter, Honolulu.

The ceremony reflected time-honored U.S. military customs as those gathered observed the orderly transfer of garrison military authority and showed appreciation for the service of the Soldiers and their family members.

Countless viewers at a distance followed the livestream broadcast, which began with the playing of the RMI and U.S. national anthems, an invocation delivered by Island Memorial Chapel Ch. Brian Conner and ended with a cake-cutting ceremony.

The people of two nations declared their continued friendship with fanfare, flowers and a flag. Capt. Hardy Temony II and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Yessinia Johnson welcomed the Pugsley family with a bouquet of yellow roses, presented to Pugsley’s spouse, Shawna Hughes, and wuts, Marshallese flower crowns, for Hughes and their children Max and Elena.

Next, the culmination of Bartel’s tenure as commander was signified with the passing of the garrison unit colors. Per Army Regulation 600-20, the act demonstrates authority passing to a new commander.

As is custom, Bartel received the colors from USAG-KA Command Sgt. Maj. Ismael Ortega.

He passed them to Pugsley before Ortega received them again for safekeeping.


On Kwajalein, the duties of the garrison commander are numerous and accomplished through teamwork and assistance from RMI, military, civilian, and contract personnel. As with Bartel, Pugsley’s duties include custodianship of the garrison, a strategic Department of Defense asset, and support for U.S. Embassy Majuro and protecting the mutually beneficial partnership between the U.S. and RMI.

As described by master of ceremonies Staff Sgt. Jay Weddington: “The commander of the U.S. Army-Kwajalein Atoll is a trustee of an internationally significant mission. He is ultimately responsible for all aspects of USAG-KA and supports the strategically important mission with base support operations. The garrison commander is also responsible for maintaining good order and discipline on this government installation and to look after the welfare of all of the installation's residents. Furthermore, he supports the U.S. Embassy Majuro by advancing a diplomatic relationship with the RMI as the INDO-PACOM commander’s assigned senior military official.”


While he works to preserve the life, health and safety of the atoll and its citizens, Pugsley will be in good company. In the years that follow, Pugsley’s contributions to the Army’s continuing mission will be strengthened with support from a team that spans the atoll.

Speaking on behalf of Acting RMI President Christopher Loeak, the people of the RMI and the RMI delegation, Alfred described how the bond between the nations is reflected through a strong connection with the U.S. military.

“We are honored and happy to be here to honor you and your families, for the service and dedication of the men and women of the United States Army and our marvelous sons and daughters who proudly serve in the U.S. armed forces,” said Alfred. “The installation is important to the Marshall Islands and will remain the centerpiece of our unique and special bilateral relationship for many years to come.”

Alfred thanked Bartel, enumerating his exemplary leadership and efforts to sustain the strong relations between the countries, such as providing support for RMI programs and security enhancements, and assisting in keeping COVID-19 out of the RMI.

“Our relationship has been fundamental to our security and an enabler of stability and prosperity,” said Alfred. “It has grown and matured over the years not only through professional interactions, exercises and operations but especially through people-to-people ties. Col. Bartel, thank you for your unmatched commitment to your mission.”

In appreciation for his service, Alfred presented Bartel with a gift from the Marshallese people: a handcrafted sailing canoe and stick chart to assure the colonel could return for a future visit.

In the same collegial spirit, Alfred welcomed the Pugsley family to the atoll community.

“Please know that our doors are always open and you are always welcome to visit us in Majuro or anywhere else in the republic as we continue to further strengthen this very close and special working relationship between the command and the whole nation to support the mission of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site.”


“I'm honored to participate in today’s ceremony to bid farewell to a trusted partner and also welcome a new commander to this most unique and beautiful country,” said U.S. Embassy Majuro Deputy Chief of Mission Jeremiah Knight, speaking on behalf of U.S. Ambassador Roxanne Cabral.

Knight described Bartel’s valuable collaborative work with U.S. Embassy Majuro and the RMI government. He recalled Bartel’s recent, official recognition in a Nitijela citation in April.

“Col. Jeremy Bartel has been a key ally, successfully promoting USAG-KA’s critical mission while actively engaging our valued partners in the Marshall Islands,” he said.

Knight thanked Bartel for checking on him while he completed quarantine.

“It's particularly difficult when you have a special person who has strong ties and has accomplished as much as Col. Bartel has done during his tenure,” said Knight. “I think that the team here at USAG-KA and the people in Ebeye and its neighboring islands will feel a little bit at ease understanding that USAG-KA is being left in very capable hands.”

The embassy staff look forward to working with Pugsley to continue USAG-KA’s rich tradition of strategic defense and local engagement, said Knight. On behalf of Cabral, Knight offered Pugsley the full support of U.S. Embassy Majuro and encouraged him to join them for volleyball on an upcoming visit.

“I’m sure that he will excel at the helm of this great institution,” said Knight, of Pugsley. “As history has shown, the U.S. embassy will continue to work with our partners, the government of the Marshall Islands and USAG-KA leadership to ensure the bonds between the two great nations continue to grow—and to accomplish any challenges that they face in the future.”


Perhaps few others possess as comprehensive an understanding of the Kwajalein mission than Lt. Gen. Daniel Karbler, commanding general of U.S. Space and Missile Defense Command. In his prerecorded address, Karbler emphasized the value of relationships and people as key elements of mission success and introduced highlights from the colonels’ military careers.

The USAG-KA mission is a tasking that spans 890 square nautical miles, 11 islands, employs more than 3,000 personnel and provides multiple strategic defense activities. It is work that cannot be accomplished without support and effective leadership.

Karbler said the key strength of Bartel’s leadership in achieving Army mission goals: putting people first.

“I mean all people—not just garrison personnel,” said Karbler. “None of it would have been possible were it not for the climate of trust and respect he established from day one. …Jeremy made sure that every member of team Kwaj—whether military, civilian or contractor—knew they had an important and irreplaceable job, and he made it clear that mission success would only be possible through cooperation—not just with each other but also with members of the Marshallese community. That is what truly defines his time as commander and what makes him, in my experience, one of the Army's best.”

Karbler thanked Regan Bartel for her exemplary facilitation of diplomatic visits and garrison activities handled “with signature grace and diplomacy.” He commended her for providing unending support for those around her, citing her mentorship of high school students and Seabees, and active participation in community sports.

“I think Jeremy would be the first to tell you how much he relied on his wife Regan over the past two years,” said Karbler. “You've also enriched every life you've touched here on Kwaj, and I know you'll be missed.”

Karbler wished Bartel good luck at his next posting: military assistant to the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, and offered an array of highlights of Bartel’s work on the atoll:

-Working with U.S. Embassy Majuro and Iroijlaplap Sen. Michael Kabua to institute a Covid-19 risk mitigation plan that gave equal consideration to the citizens of the U.S. and RMI

Hosting town halls and council meetings across the atoll to keep RMI citizens informed about quarantine testing and repatriation operations

-Volunteering to receive the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine available on USAG-KA to demonstrate its safety and to encourage both garrison personnel and community members to follow his lead

-Helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19: “an incredible achievement”

-Receiving special recognition from the Nitijela “for protecting lives and providing essential services throughout the pandemic”

Assuring the continuance of the mission of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site and missions related to space surveillance, foreign launch observation and ballistic missile and weapons testing

Karbler specifically recalled the success of the Missile Defense Agency’s FTM-44 mission during a critical testing window.

“It was with a little luck and a lot of creative problem solving that the flight test was executed to perfection this past November,” said Karbler, adding that Vice Adm. John Hill considered the successful test “an incredible accomplishment and a critical milestone.”

Anticipating that their love of the atoll would grow over the years, Karbler welcomed the Pugsley family to the atoll.

“As for the challenging role Tom will be stepping into, his extensive professional experience after 24 years in the Army makes him an ideal candidate,” said Karbler, of his confidence in Pugsley’s leadership.

Pugsley holds three master’s degrees and a doctorate from the Naval Postgraduate School. He was commissioned as a field artillery officer, accepted as a Space Operations officer and taught as a professor at United States Military Academy West Point. In 2011, he arrived in the Pacific theater to become the chief of the space branch for USARPAC's strategic programs division.

Pugsley has served as the chief of operations in the Command and Control Division for the Space Security and Defense Program in Colorado Springs and recently served as the chief of Special Programs Directorate for United States Army Central Command at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, where he was responsible for all space, cyber and special technical operations in support of Central Command.

“Most importantly, like Jeremy, Tom understands the need to put people first,” said Karbler. “That is why I know he will continue to foster the climate of trust and respect among all members of the Kwaj community, and in doing so, further strengthen the special relationship between the U.S. and RMI.”


Craig Deatrick, director of U.S. Army Installation Management Command-Pacific, joined the ceremony via a live teleconference connection to thank the colonels for their exemplary service and to acknowledge Bartel’s support of the Army mission and Marshallese people during the pandemic.

Deatrick commended Bartel on his mission support and close teamwork with the RMI.

“He was able to closely coordinate with our friends from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, coordinating the movement of approximately 900 U.S. personnel while also coordinating the repatriation of almost 200 Marshallese citizens from the United States back to Kwajalein,” said Deatrick.

Deatrick noted Bartel’s efforts to cross-coordinate with Navy leadership in prioritization of humanitarian projects accomplished by the U.S. Navy Seabees to aid Enniburr residents. He described Bartel as a stellar planner who achieved “commanding results” in handling the challenges of base operations—even when unscheduled events and support changed the shape of best laid plans.

Of Bartel’s efforts in shaping an inclusive culture throughout the military and civilian workforce, Deatrick said he was “relentless.”

“He built understanding between eclectic generational and socioeconomic groups, nurtured short- and long-term planning, prioritized support around mission needs and built consensus,” he said. “Jeremy was an exemplar, graciously sharing his knowledge and experience to grow the next generation of leaders,” Deatrick said. “He was committed to effective risk management and he clearly articulated current emerging requirements and ensured proper resource stewardship of over $300 million in operational funds and $500 million in new construction. His knowledge of relevant information and transparency helped gain the Army consideration for increased investment in energy communications and construction and netted two congressional authorities identified in the National Defense Authorization acts of 2020 and 2021, respectively.”

Deatrick ended with words of encouragement for Pugsley: “Tom, you're the right leader and you have the right team support for this mission. Carry on the proud history. Continue to strengthen our partnership with the RMI. I'm confident your talents and experience will benefit this community.”


As Col. Jeremy Bartel looked out across the audience, he could see the faces of Marshallese citizens, traditional and government leaders, community members, military personnel, support staff, Department of the Army civilians, veterans and friends.

Together, they had worked to implement new construction, craft an Annual Work Plan, parse budgetary support with IMCOM personnel, help inform the community, accomplish repatriation and, when the going got tough, to ensure contract support was there to keep the lights on and the water running.

All were people Bartel had worked steadfastly with for two years to support, and they were there in support of him. Without fail, he put the people first and thanked every one of them.

“There's a saying that I appreciate,” said Bartel. “‘When you give someone your time you are giving them a portion of your life that you will never get back.’ Your time is your life. I appreciate you all finding the time to be here today, but I also appreciate all the time many of you put into running this garrison. Moreover, I cannot think of a more rewarding way to have spent the last two years, and I’ll take away experiences and memories that will always mean a great deal.”

Bartel hoped that he had satisfied RTS mission leaders with his support. He recognized the many civilian, contract partners, IMCOM personnel and military leaders who had offered their insight, support and teamwork over the years in realizing goals on the garrison.

He thanked Derek Miller, director of USAG-KA Public Works, for tackling challenging projects to prepare the garrison for greater future success and shared his appreciation for Karbler’s steadfast support of USAG-KA:

“You're an absolutely phenomenal leader who provided the guidance I needed and the latitude any leader wants from their senior mission commander to execute their intent,” Bartel said. “I couldn't imagine trying to command out here with anyone else at the helm.”

The colonel directly addressed USAG-KA Deputy Garrison Commander Denise Davis, in the front row:

“I couldn't have asked for anyone else to see my blind spots and who wasn't afraid to challenge my assumptions. Besides being a phenomenal deputy to the commander, you are someone that cares for the entire Department of the Army civilian workforce. Regardless of whether they knew it or not, I've seen you fight for absolutely everyone in this organization at one point or another without exception.”

Far in the back of the hangar, Bartel spied Command Sgt. Maj. Ismael Ortega in the crowd. He commended both him and former Command Sgt. Maj. Kenyatta Gaskins on their exceptional leadership: “two leaders whose outstanding competence and dedication made it impossible to fail.”

Bartel thanked the many RMI ministers and leaders with whom he’d spent long hours planning projects, affirming plans and working together—perhaps none so much as one man with whom he’d also spent hours fishing.

“I have to thank my Marshallese brother, Mayor Hirata Kabua,” Bartel said. “You have listened to me at all hours of the night, explained the nuances of the RMI, brought me into your home, and together we've accomplished tasks that seemed impossible. I feel like we have made our two communities closer today than they were before. The one thing that we have not accomplished was catching the marlin that you promised me over a year ago—which means I must come back. Well played, my friend.”

The colonel looked once again over the crowd where, two short years ago, he’d first assumed command.

“The last piece I would like to leave our Kwajalein community with is, don't take our Marshallese brothers and sisters for granted. Cultivate your relationships both at work and in your free time. I promise it will be one of the most rewarding investments you have ever made.”

Bartel wished the Pugsleys an excellent tour.

“The only advice I have for you is the same I've given you many times before,” he said. “Take care of this community. Take care of the workers. Take care of the mission, and there is no doubt in my mind they won't take care of you. I'm looking forward to seeing what you accomplish as a team over the next few years. May God bless the people of the Marshall Islands, the men, women and families of Kwajalein and may God bless America—which is now and always will be the land of the free and the home of the brave. Kommol tata and De Oppresso Liber.”


As Col. Pugsley took to the podium, he was surrounded by new friends and willing helpers. A host of new challenges awaited him. He had only lived on the garrison 10 short weeks and had seen the beauty of the atoll and character of its people. He shared his first impressions of the RMI and its residents.

“I've been thoroughly impressed with the kindness and your generosity—both from yourselves, as well as the Marshallese people,” Pugsley said. “It is truly a testament to the unique and special relationship between our two countries. I would like to thank Col. Bartel and Regan for their commitment to this community, their commitment to the mission, and finally to their commitment to the Marshall Islands. The positive impact you both have made in your time here can be seen everywhere.”

Pugsley thanked those who had supported him in his travels throughout the atoll as he prepared for his mission. He expressed joy about beginning his tour.

“My family and I are truly delighted to have the privilege to join this wonderful community and we greatly appreciate the warm welcome we've received from everyone. We look forward to building upon the relationships that we've established so far and we look forward to working with the entire team—from the RMI government to our Marshallese workforce to the Department of Army civilians, to our contractors, to the military personnel. All of you: We look forward to interacting, engaging and working as we achieve our nations’ interests. Thank you for this opportunity to continue to serve.”