U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll Quarantine Program Supported Safe Travel and Prevented Spread of COVID-19

By Jessica DambruchAugust 30, 2022

U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll Quarantine Program Supported Safe Travel and Prevented Spread of COVID-19
Kwajalein Hospital registered nurse Scott Thompson, left, and former Kwajalein Hospital Chief Nurse Stephanie Gonzalez, second from left, perform temperature checks in June 2020 at Bucholz Army Airfield for the first group of quarantine residents to arrive on U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll. After running for more than two years, the quarantine program will end Aug. 30, 2022. (Photo Credit: Jessica Dambruch) VIEW ORIGINAL

After more than two years in operation, the Kwajalein Atoll quarantine program is scheduled to end Aug. 30, 2022, with the arrival of tranche 117. Passengers arriving with the incoming group will be required to complete zero quarantine days on U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll.

The quarantine program was forged through coordination between the Republic of the Marshall Islands national and local governments, U.S. Embassy Majuro and the Department of Defense. Support was provided by numerous contract personnel through the LOGCAP program operating in Hawaii and on Kwajalein. Key to the program’s success was an initial, favorable consensus granted by traditional leaders in the Marshallese community in the spring of 2020.

Since that time, USAG-KA has safely received mission essential personnel to facilitate Reagan Test Site operations and helped prevent community spread. In quarantine, numerous COVID-19 border cases were identified and contained. All residents of testing age who have entered or returned to the atoll since 2020 have received a negative COVID test before their release date.

Over the years, the quarantine population has included diplomats, military leadership, teachers, medical professionals, families, Soldiers and Seabees.

The program’s operational model was adopted for the RMI Repatriation Program and Safe Travels Programs, a passage solution for RMI citizens stranded abroad. Program oversight was provided by the RMI Office of the Chief Secretary and medical professionals from Ebeye and Majuro.

“The USAG-KA Repatriation and the RMI Kwajalein Repatriation process was a success because of the individuals who were on the front line executing COVID operations daily,” wrote USAG-KA Command Sgt. Maj. Ismael Ortega to The Kwajalein Hourglass. “I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the entire community had a significant part to play as well. We all struggled through the closed borders and the quarantine process, but we were resilient and pushed through it. High accolades go to DynCorp International-Amentum and Vectrus, our current base operations services contractor, who were the ones on the front line providing the heavy lifting and coordination of daily COVID operations.”

Quarantine allowed for critical operations on the garrison to proceed when necessary. TDY-travelers and personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Criminal Investigative Division visited and performed work in controlled “bubbles” to reduce chances of endangering the local community. A similar strategy enabled delegations from the U.S. and RMI to convene in isolation on USAG-KA for the first round of talks in the renewal of the Compact of Free Association.

Over time, the initial quarantine period of two weeks in Hawaii and three weeks on Kwajalein has reduced with approval by the RMI national government.

Other numbers quantify the size of the quarantine support effort. To provision quarantine households, island dining services personnel have served more than 3,000 meals. More than 3,500 people have returned home and began or resumed work since the quarantine program began.

“Without this collective effort, we would not have achieved these results,” wrote Sue Mosier, USAG-KA’s former health systems specialist, in May 2022. “Deep satisfaction comes from working with such an incredible team of people: our lab, COVID team, administrative team, Vector Control team, Housing & Billeting Office, USAG-KA leadership, U.S. Embassy Majuro, the Kwajalein Hospital team, dining services team—and I’ve missed many others.”

The others include include island sponsors.

Families, friends and good island neighbors provided the community’s newest members the essentials to get through multiple weeks spent indoors, sometimes even over holidays.

Thousands of pounds of sundries and gifts have been delivered to quarantine occupants by sponsors before their release dates. Kwajalein residents supplied freshly caught fish, dishes, coffeemakers, laundry detergent, linens, bedding, toiletries, and over the holidays, wrapped presents, holiday lights, trees, and trays of cookies to newcomers in quarantine.

A small Kawasaki vehicle towing a trailer loaded with shopping bags and boxes bound for quarantine year-round became a common sight on weekends and drop-off days.

“I feel like quarantine has prepared me to be a better sponsor,” said one new island resident in early 2022.

Sponsorship will continue to be a key part of island safety and the newcomer experience. Guidance published by USAG-KA Command this week directs all island residents to comply with safety protocols and masking requirements, and sponsors and human resources representatives must communicate current garrison HPCON guidance to newcomers.

Upon arrival, sponsors can now utilize the island shuttle service or pick up their individuals at Entry and Exit following their badge issue.

All arriving passengers will undergo a rapid antigen test on the tarmac to determine their COVID-19 status upon arrival on either the ATI or United Airlines.

If test results are negative, individuals can move around the community with a mask. Anyone who later develops symptoms consistent with COVID-19 should immediately call the Kwajalein COVID Hotline, 5-1103.

If test results are positive, individuals should self-isolate or self-quarantine in their quarters after being issued a badge and lodging. Individuals testing positive must call the Kwajalein COVID Hotline at 5-1103 on day five for a retest.