Mission in Top Gear: USAG-KA Gets Ready for Big Changes

By James BrantleyMay 23, 2022

Mission in Top Gear: USAG-KA Gets Ready for Big Changes
From left: USAG-KA Commander Col. Thomas Pugsley, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of the Marshall Islands Roxanne Cabral, RMI First Lady Ginger Kabua, RMI President David Kabua and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Casten Nemra, attend the 35th Anniversary of the signing of the Compact of Free Association, Oct. 21, 2021 in Majuro, RMI. (U.S. Army Photo by Mike Brantley) (Photo Credit: James Brantley) VIEW ORIGINAL

Beyond the International Dateline and more than 2,400 miles southwest from Hawaii, U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll has the distinction of being the first Army installation in the world to welcome a new day.

The 1,300 men and women who live and work on Kwajalein and Roi-Namur, two of 11 defense sites spread across miles of ocean in the world’s largest lagoon, make up a dynamic team of military, Department of the Army Civilian employees, contractors and family members, whose primary goal is the successful accomplishment of the mission.

Island residents enjoy the small beach town atmosphere that Kwajalein offers. While there are no privately owned vehicles, there are more than 2,000 bicycles on the island.

About the Mission

USAG-KA executes complex installation management and base operation services in support of tenant units and strategic partners.

By building a world-class community and strengthening the mutually beneficial relationship with the Republic of the Marshall Islands government, we improve our shared quality of life and enhance mission assurance throughout the Indo-Pacific region.

With the support of the Marshall Islands, our host nation, and more than 1,000 RMI employees, as well as other stakeholders and tenants, USAG-KA executes the mission by focusing on partnerships.

Through communication, inclusion and open and candid dialog, we synchronize the activities of an array of stakeholders towards a single overarching fact: We and our tenants exist to support national security.

Each tenant is different, so this isn’t as easy as you might think. The Reagan Test Site supports the development, test and evaluation of strategic ballistic missile defense systems, strategic systems and system research and development for the nation, while the U.S. Space Force remains operationally focused and provides the nation’s premier space domain awareness functions.

Our newest tenant, Vectrus, focuses on the tactical level, and employs the bulk of the population as it manages the base operations support contract needed to keep the Garrison and its tenants functioning. Other than stakeholder integration, USAG-KA’s primary role is to provide contract oversight to ensure superior customer service and fiscal responsibility.

Even with good partners, USAG-KA faces many challenges as we attempt to adapt to the ever-changing operations environment.

The Challenge of COVID

Since March 2020, the RMI has maintained its ban on all incoming travel. There has been a mandatory quarantine process in Hawaii and in the RMI, the most restrictive in the world.

Together with support from island logistics personnel, USAG-KA has brought more than 2,000 individuals on 100 tranches through the repatriation process. In addition, USAG-KA has supported the RMI’s quarantine process and has helped repatriate more than 1,000 Marshallese.

This support will continue until the country is ready to reopen borders. While Kwajalein has had 17 COVID border cases since the start of the pandemic, it has remained one of the last spots on the planet with zero transmission.

The Impact of Climate Change

Being one of the lowest lying installations in the DOD, averaging just six feet above sea level, Kwajalein is at the forefront of climate change discussion. By tackling goals outlined in the Army Climate Strategy, USAG-KA will increase capacity to provide support to STRATCOM, SPACECOM and INDOPACOM missions; gain substantial resiliency and readiness; modernize its degraded infrastructure; save significant expense and decrease risks associated with importing energy; and improving relations with the RMI.

USAG-KA’s current goals include the following: the installation of Building Control Systems by 2028; provide 100 percent carbon-pollution-free electricity by 2030; a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in buildings by 2032; installation of additional microgrids by 2035; provide on-site carbon pollution-free power generation for Army critical missions on all installations by 2040; and attain net-zero GHG emissions by 2045.

These are big goals for an installation that provides 100 percent of its own power and water on site without a single external service provider.

Aging Infrastructure

Kwajalein has the dubious distinction of the most corrosive environment in the DOD. Kwajalein’s infrastructure is in critical condition.

To mitigate these impacts, USAG-KA’s objectives are fourfold: to sustain enduring facilities; dispose of facilities no longer needed; improve facility quality; and build-out only the most critical shortfalls.

Currently, USAG-KA has several military construction projects approved, to include new family housing, air traffic control tower, medical clinic, power plant controls and annex generator, desalination plant, saltwater cooling station and rooftop solar photovoltaic systems, all designed to increase resilience and provide much needed redundancy.

In Partnership with the RMI

In 1986, the Compact of Free Association, a document defining the special relationship between the RMI, and the U.S. was ratified and signed by then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan and the RMI Congress.

Last October, the U.S. and RMI celebrated the 35th anniversary of the COFA in Majuro.

While 35 years marks the signing by the two countries, the U.S has maintained a constant presence in the RMI since the end of World War II.

The RMI remains an important U.S. ally, and the mutual bonds of friendship between the nations continue to be strengthened over the years.

The U.S. and RMI are currently renegotiating the COFA, which is set to expire in 2023. The outcomes of those negotiations could have significant impacts on the Garrison’s operations in-theater.

On any map, Kwajalein may appear as small as a postage stamp in the Pacific Ocean. Despite the rust, Kwajalein functions on trust, cooperation and common goals.

Though remote, Kwajalein’s small, hardworking team is second to none. Together with our critical teammates from the RMI, the dedication and hard work of Kwajalein’s contractor, military and DA civilian personnel all make the installation a great community in which to work, play and live.