U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll Commander Col. Thomas Pugsley made his first visit to Ebeye July 16 to meet with Iroijlaplap Sen. Michael Kabua, Kwajalein Sen. David Paul and Kwajalein Atoll local government Mayor Hirata Kabua to discuss his thoughts on furthering the relationship between the two nations.
This was Pugsley’s first visit since he took command of USAG-KA June 30.
During his meeting at Kabua’s residence, Pugsley discussed USAG-KA’s quarantine process, the Marshallese workforce and access to some of the mid-atoll islets.
On the quarantine process –
“The U.S. and the RMI have a great lasting partnership and we need to continue to look at ways that we can help each other,” said Pugsley.
“We look at all the efforts in which we are trying to support regarding the repatriation efforts to the RMI and I think it is important that we open up a dialog or a conversation with the government, especially with the National Disaster Committee,” he added. “I’m trying to find a way in which we can start to reduce the quarantine process. I think that most of the government understands that even compared to the rest of the world, it’s very excessive, and we’d be the first to say that we cannot afford to have Covid-19 in the Marshall Islands.”
Pugsley added that reducing the quarantine process would drastically reduce the cost of quarantine for the Marshall Islands.
On the Marshallese workforce –
“Our job is to make sure they are treated right,” Pugsley said. “I think a lot of times, the workforce can feel intimidated or they don’t want to report issues. We don’t want that. We want them to feel open and to have that conversation with no fear of retribution.
“We need to know about those problems. We try our best during the quarterly workforce town hall meetings to give an open forum for the Marshallese workforce to discuss issues that they were unable to resolve through their HR. We do our best to try to look at those issues,” Pugsley said.
Regarding access to some of the islets in the mid-atoll, Kabua discussed their plan to access some of the islets for burial. In July 2017, the commanding general of U.S. Space and Missile Defense Command and the RMI minister of foreign affairs signed an agreement for limited access to some of the mid-atoll islets.
Next, Pugsley met with Sen. David Paul and Mayor Hirata Kabua at the Kwajalein Atoll Local Government conference room and shared his thoughts on keeping an open line of communication between Kwajalein and KALGOV.
The mayor said that he represents the community. “When the commander speaks with me, he is speaking to the community,” he said.
The mayor said that the Ebeye community is strong as a team but are concerned about Covid-19. He said he knows there is a good process in place and that “we are exceeding CDC protocols” and taking it very seriously.
Paul, one of three Kwajalein senators, said that “here in the RMI, we have about a 60 percent vaccination coverage. We (the RMI) need to mandate that anyone coming into the country must be vaccinated first.”
“The quarantine in Kwajalein is very effective. People trust it,” said Paul.
The commander then toured two Compact of Free Association-funded construction sites – one for the new Ebeye Public Elementary School, and one for the Mid-Atoll Corridor Housing. The Mid-Atoll Corridor Housing will house all the Kwajalein residents displaced in the 1960s from the islands in the mid-atoll corridor and moved to Ebeye.