“Communication; open and candid dialog, is critical to a good partnership,” said Col. Tom Pugsley, U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll commander recently at the Kwajalein community town hall meeting April 20 at the Island Memorial Chapel. “That’s how teams are formed and it’s a critical enabler for success of the mission.
“Everything comes down to success of the mission here on Kwaj, and it takes everyone working together to get after that. So, any issues that we have that are allowed to fester and go unanswered just causes friction in the community.”
On April 19 and 20, USAG-KA leadership conducted town halls on Roi-Namur and Kwajalein for the community members to share their concerns, questions and compliments in an open forum.
Pugsley opened both town halls by providing information on several topics of interest, such as COVID-19, quarantine, transition, island infrastructure and the Army climate strategy.
COVID border cases. “This is what quarantine is for,” said Pugsley. “It is to catch positive cases in quarantine, to see them through recovery and then release them back into the general population, minimizing chances of community spread.”
Quarantine. Pugsley added that no one recommends pre-travel quarantine.
“We fought hard to get that reduced to three days and that is what the RMI is doing,” he said, adding that all travelers inbound to the Marshall Islands are currently required to complete five day’s quarantine in Hawaii.”
Pugsley said the plan moving forward was always to make gradual reductions in quarantine to ensure the appropriate processes are in place to ensure safety.
“The last thing we want from the garrison’s perspective is to induce COVID-19 into the country. In all likelihood, even if the RMI reduces to zero days in Hono, we will slowly phase in a reduction to about three days, maybe two.
“With that being said, if we do go to zero days in Hawaii, United Airlines will probably open up to three flights a week. We’re going to have to limit on which flights will be available to people coming to Kwaj due to managing the medical, testing and the quarantine piece. This will help us to maintain control.”
The RMI government will present plans for quarantine reduction to the Nitijela, or RMI congress, said Pugsley. The initial plan is to reduce in two-day increments. It is also anticipated that quarantine may be reduced from 14 to 12 days over the next six weeks.
He imparted that RMI Chief Secretary Kino Kabua had said during an April meeting on Majuro that she believed by July, the RMI would be down to zero days’ Hawaii quarantine and 10 days’ quarantine on Kwajalein.
“So that is what we are looking at—mid- to late-summer—if everything goes right,” Pugsley said.
Transition. At the time of the town hall, Vectrus was a week away from assuming the base operations services contract.
“Vectrus has been very good at minimizing the impact to the Marshallese workforce,” Pugsley said.
Infrastructure and equipment. The garrison has currently been operating at reduced capacity without helicopters for several weeks. This has had some plact on mission support activities.
“We’ve been able to work around this for the most part, but that just goes to show how hard it is to get critical equipment and expertise on island to fix our stuff,” Pugsley said. “Most of the infrastructure on the island in some level of disrepair. We are putting a lot of effort into it. We have a team on island that is going to do a complete assessment of all the island’s critical infrastructure, and that is going to set a foundational baseline for where we are. It will help better frame the decision for future resources.”
Climate Change. “The Army takes climate change seriously,” Pugsley said. “A new set of requirements was recently released to which significantly alter how Kwajalein will conduct business over the next 20 years.
“A congressman brought up Kwajalein by name as an exemplar where climate change needs to be addressed at the Department of Defense-level to mitigate and plan for the impending changes the climate is going to have on the national security of the U.S. That’s a lot of attention. With attention comes a lot more oversight, consideration and hard looks at how we do business. We’ve asked the contractors—the teams—to make sure that we are doing our best to provide oversight, and that we’re maximizing every dollar of the taxpayers’ money that we use to go into this installation. Hopefully, we’ll see a lot of goodness coming out of that in the next couple years.”
1) What is going on with Surfway privileges for BQ residents?
We need to do some research to figure out what we are legally authorized to do, what the Army and the DoD will allow, and then the legal justification for either way.
As of now, nothing is going to change. We are going to allow people to use the Surfway until we get a resolution on what our justification will be.
2) Will there be fireworks for 4th of July?
USAG-KA is determining the feasibility of using a new vendor for fireworks.
3) Departing Kwajalein for the summer.
For the last few months, incoming tranches haven’t been full. We are running at 25 percent full. Please be conscientious when planning your return flight to not all arrive back here the week before school.
Work with your human resources personnel, as they are the ones allocating you to a tranche. If you have to divert your plans to maximize your chance to get back on the island, I’d highly recommend doing so. While it’s pretty easy to get you back now, you should consider your ability to return on time.”
4) What is the status of space available travel?
“Full servicing on ATI flights will be restored by May 13. Space available travel is authorized for Department of Defense civilians to include non-appropriated fund and U.S. Department of Defense civilian employees without transportation agreements and their dependents while in ordinary leave status.
Military and DoD civilians and their families can fly between Kwajalein and Hawaii for respite, specialty medical appointments, personal business and morale and recreation purposes.
Keep in mind that to return to Kwajalein travelers must still be placed on a tranche by human resources personnel and must quarantine in Hawaii which is currently five days and two weeks on Kwajalein.”
5) Do we still have to wear masks on United Airlines?
United Airlines dropped their mask mandate for flights on April 20 for domestic flights only. UA maintains a mask mandate in the Kwajalein air terminal and aboard their aircraft to Guam and Hawaii.
6) When will the veterinarian and optometrist arrive on island?
The veterinarian is scheduled to arrive in late May or early June. A TDY optometrist will arrive in July. Both are scheduled to be on island for two weeks. All island residents are encouraged to contact the Kwajalein Hospital to be put on a waitlist for appointments.
From Command Sgt. Maj. Ismael Ortega:
“In order for the transition to be successful, and for this island to be successful, the entire team needs to be rowing in the same direction. There are a lot of things that LOGCAP does for the garrison and there are a lot of things the garrison does for LOGCAP. Without each other, and with the rest of the tenants, the island is not successful. It will take everyone in this community to make this the best in the Marshall Islands. We have a perfect opportunity to start fresh, and take advantage of the eyes coming in, to set conditions and to lead us going forward.”