DIGGING FOR HISTORY IN KWAJALEIN
There's a lot of American military history in the Kwajalein Atoll-on Kwajalein itself, and Roi-Namur in the northeast side of the island chain.
Most of that history involves Operation Flintlock, part of America's World War II Pacific campaign during which the U.S. military captured the atoll from the Japanese on Feb. 7, 1944. Today, remnants of that operation and of the Japanese occupation of Kwajalein remain buried all around the atoll.
When construction starts on a new project at Kwajalein, it's the job of Leslie Mead, Kwajalein's in-house archeologist, to ensure appropriate care is taken to recover and process any artifacts found.
"Basically, every time we dig something, I have to be around to take a look at it-anything that's greater than 6 inches below grade and within the confines of the island prior to 1945," Mead said.
Her facility houses relics of the war: weapons, clothing, personal effects of both Japanese and American military personnel, dog tags and even human remains.
"Most of what we find these days is from World War II-for example, a Japanese gun we excavated on Roi-Namur this past year," she said. "It came out of the fill deposit. Right after World War II, they were looking for dirt or anything else that they could to bring the island back online as an American base. They took a lot of Japanese stuff and just dumped it in the ocean. This is one of the things they dumped in-a Japanese anti-aircraft gun."
Mead also finds bones on the island. Part of her work is to confirm if the remains are American, Japanese or Marshallese so they can be sent back to their home countries to be repatriated. Most of the remains, she said, are of Japanese soldiers.
"We're not primarily interested in identifying a single individual, but rather trying to confirm what we strongly suspect-and that is that they are Japanese," she said, while handling a plastic envelope with a bone fragment and documentation inside. "They will be repatriated to the government of the Marshall Islands, who will in all likelihood repatriate them to the Japanese."
Dog tags are also a common find on the island. Mead says when they find dog tags they try to locate the Soldier, if he is still alive, or find his Family, so they can be returned. Sometimes, however, they run into problems.
"We actually contacted an individual several years ago and let him know that we had found his dog tags, and he denied that they were his," she said. "He acknowledged that yes, he was in the Army, and yes, he had been in the Marshall Islands, and yes, he was on Kwajalein. But they were not his dog tags!"
She has a theory as to why the former Soldier didn't want to claim what was his.
"Maybe he's concerned the Army will come after him for losing his dog tags 65 years ago," she said. "Or, it was a fairly common practice to take your spare dog tag if you had a relationship with a local girl and there might be consequences from that relationship, to give her your dog tag. If there were consequences after you had left, she would be able to contact you."
Mead's facility houses several glass cases to display some of the finds. One pair of cases has sets of American and Japanese World War II-era gear, so visitors can compare the two.
"We wanted to have sort of some analogous things in the case so people would be able to understand the difference between the two different types of soldiers," Mead said. "If you look at the American case, virtually everything is standard Army issue. That's reflective of the fact that the World War II Soldier was the best-equipped Soldier that had ever fought. Virtually everything that he was given and had was issued to him by the Army."
The Japanese soldier's kit included things donated by the community, she said.
"You'll see there are a lot of very idiosyncratic things in here besides the ordnance," she said. Included in the case for the Japanese soldier was a jar of hair pomade from the Tokyo School of Beauty, and a Japanese Imperial Navy-issued rice bowl.
"We find them all the time," Mead said. "It's sort of the equivalent of an American mess kit."
Mead also has a collection of glass bottles exhumed from trash dumps used by the American servicemembers stationed on the island after the war, including beer and liquor bottles. Mead explained that back then, American enlisted Soldiers were limited in the amount of alcohol that could be in their beer. "You can tell the enlisted man dump from the officer's dump, because the officer's dump had the liquor bottles," she said.
Mead is more than just the archeologist for Kwajalein-she collects its history as well. She has thousands of pictures related to the island's history, and newspapers and magazines published about the military mission on Kwajalein-some even published by the military on Kwajalein.
A Sailor's handmade scrapbook that Mead purchased online is among the collection's most prized pieces.
"We call it the Reckinger scrap book," she said. "He was here in 1945 and 1946...with the Seabees. There are all kinds of things in here: pictures of Kwajalein, pictures of home, a beer ration card, a cigarette chit and his chow hall pass."
The book also includes a photo of the war-crimes trial for the Japanese commander of Kwajalein.
"This is the only photo we have," she said. "That's when they tried the commander of Kwajalein...for killing the Makin Raiders here." The Makin Raiders were Marines who attacked the Japanese holding Makin Island (now Butaritan Island) in August 1942. After inflicting heavy Japanese casualties and taking out enemy radios, the Marines withdrew. However, due to a combination of broken boat motors and heavy surf, several Marines were stuck on the island. The Japanese captured them and brought them to Kwajalein for execution.
Mead can't keep everything she finds, though. Some things are simply too dangerous.
"The hardest day I ever had was when I had to take a full canvas bag that was part of a Japanese soldier's uniform, that had hung from the belt, with the canvas still on it and still full of bullets," Mead said. "I had to turn it over to EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) for destruction-I can't keep live rounds here. But my favorite boys in the world are the EOD boys, because they keep me alive."
Brian Bussey is one of the unexploded ordnance technicians who works with the EOD team.
"Most EOD contractors conduct what they call 'walking the grid,' which is just going out on the ranges and digging up areas," Bussey said. "We basically respond to any kind of incidents that are called in. People are digging and they find a UXO (unexploded ordnance), or they are walking along the street and find a UXO. We also go out and do sweeps to look for UXOs."
As a result of Operation Flintlock, Bussey said, the entire Kwajalein Atoll is full of UXOs.
"That resulted in a lot of ammunition, over 100,000 tons of ammunition just from the Allies," Bussey said. "That doesn't even account for the Japanese ammunition that was here."
Bussey's team averages about 54 UXO-related incidents a year, or about one a week.
"About half the stuff we find is still considered hazardous in some form or fashion," he said. "It still contains explosives or a functional fuse. Some of the items, especially the Japanese, do not require fuses to be dangerous. Instead, they use picric acid as a main charge filler. And picric acid is extremely sensitive over time."
Bussey said a big part of his and his team's mission is to keep the residents safe, including the archeologist. They do that though public awareness and safety campaigns, including public service announcements on the American Forces Network channels and education programs in the schools.
"We attribute our public awareness more to the safety (campaign) than to us going out and finding things," he said.
Through the efforts of EOD and their local archaeologist, Kwajalein residents can be certain that the atoll's history is safe and sound.
KWAJALEIN BOASTS A NURTURING ACADEMIC ENVIRONMENT FOR STUDENTS
There's about one adult for every seven students at the schools on Kwajalein-a ratio that trumps schools in nearly every category in the U.S., with the exception of special education.
Of course, there are less than 300 students between its two schools, which include George Seitz Elementary School and Kwajalein Junior-Senior High School. Class sizes average about 25 students-about 25 will graduate high school in the spring and move on from island life.
The schools on Kwajalein, like nearly everything else on the island, are run by defense contractors-they are not Department of Defense schools. But the small student body means teachers and faculty at the school can spend more time educating and preparing students for the future, and less time putting kids in the corner.
"We have high standards and virtually no discipline problems-I've been here four years and we've never had a fight," said Al Robinson, the superintendent and principal of the Kwajalein schools. "We also enjoy, for the most part, really good parental support. When you peel away discipline issues, lack of parent involvement and lack of parent caring, you get down to where you can really teach kids 90 or 95 percent of your time."
When teachers can educate instead of dealing with those unrelated issues, the school can make great things happen for students, Robinson said.
"We tell our kids in seventh grade (that) when they get to the high school, if they do what they need to do and they work hard here, we can literally get them into any school they want to go to," Robinson added. "We've sent kids to any school you can imagine-Ivy League schools and military academies."
A few years ago, for example, the valedictorian went off to Stanford, and this year's top student is headed to Johns Hopkins.
The small class size does make it hard for students to blend in or disappear.
"The people out here like it because it's more of a Family atmosphere," said senior Aaron Mathison. "You're close to your friends and you can be friends with anybody in school because you know who they are. In the States you blend in. If you don't want to be noticed for something, you're not noticed."
Mathison explained that it's a far cry from where he was back in the U.S., in Florida, where he had more than 300 kids in his class. "Most of the people walking down the hall you don't know and won't ever know," he said. "You only have a few friends, and you don't get along with everybody or you wouldn't hang out with them after school."
With a 3.9 grade point average, Mathison is applying to the Army, Navy and Coast Guard service academies.
He's not the only one headed off to the military, either. Two of his classmates are headed to the Army: Darryl Lorok and Robin Loeak. Both are Marshallese citizens who live on Ebeye, just north of Kwajalein. They've attended the American schools on Kwajalein since kindergarten as "rikatak" students. The Marshallese word means "guest."
Each year, five new Marshallese children from Ebeye are accepted into the American school system on Kwajalein, and are allowed to stay from kindergarten through 12th grade.
"They send 25 kids over from the preschools and kindergartens there and we screen them and look for things we think will make them successful-we pick the top five," said Robinson. There are about 65 total slots for Marshallese in the Kwajalein school system-about 20 percent of the student body.
Loeak likes to study physics and math in school, and plans to eventually serve as a behavioral health specialist in the Army after graduation. Lorok said he would serve as a generator mechanic.
"I chose to go to the Army because I thought it was an opportunity, a door that can be opened to a brighter future," Loeak explained. "There are a lot of benefits and financial help."
Both plan to use their access to the Army-as Marshallese citizens with benefits under the Compact of Free Association with the U.S.-to catapult themselves toward a better future.
"It'll be just four years until I'm eligible for the grants and the G.I. Bill so I can go to school," Lorok said. "I'm hoping to go in the Army for four years, then go to college after that to get a degree in political science. Then I'll come back to the Marshall Islands and help the Marshallese community."
Loeak is less certain of what he'll do after the Army, though.
"My first option is to try to go to college, and if college doesn't work out, a career in the military," he said. "I'd want to come back and help out here too, but I don't know. I still don't have my future planned."
Faculty members at the Kwajalein school are helping all the students craft plans for the future.
"My counselor is talking with the kids and trying to get them through the application process," Robinson said. "Some will go into military service, but all will be really qualified to go to junior college or any state school."
Robinson said there are challenges for students on Kwajalein. For one, the isolation means students are sometimes ill-prepared for the dangers and distractions of the larger world in the U.S.
"This is an incredibly safe place," he said. "A female athlete can go running at 2:30 a.m. by herself and never worry. It can be pitch black and nobody cares-nobody will bother you. You won't be harassed or molested. So it's incredibly safe, probably too safe. It gives our kids a naive picture of safety."
Mathison said a friend of his, who has since left for school in New York City, has found it tough to adjust to his new surroundings.
"If you live out here you don't see the everyday situations you do in the States," he said. "A few of the kids that have grown up here and they go to college, they get really homesick. One of my best friends who graduated here two years ago is in college in Manhattan and always calls back and wants to know how people are doing-he misses the island lifestyle. It's really different here."
The lack of modern technology at the school, especially access to the Internet, was also a problem in the past. But recent developments have made things better for educators and students.
"Until about a month ago all of our communications were bouncing off satellites," said Robinson. "So the amount of bandwidth that we had available to do public Internet sites was very small. It's a lot faster now because it's getting to the United States via Guam on an underwater cable. That's already made a huge difference"- a difference that will further prepare Kwajalein's students for life beyond the island.
GOOD NEIGHBOR POLICY
There are about 1,200 Americans living on Kwajalein, but they are not alone in the atoll. Less than 2 miles north of Kwajalein Island is Ebeye Island, where some 15,000 Marshallese live.
And like all U.S. military installations, the Army wants to have a great relationship with the citizens of the host nation.
"We do a lot of things in terms of being good neighbors," said Col. Joseph N. Gaines, commander, U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll. "For instance, we had a call saying there was a Marshallese boat missing, and they wanted us to assist in search and rescue."
In early 2009, when a Marshallese civilian was bitten by a shark, leadership at USAKA provided assistance.
"We flew a helicopter up there and flew him back to Ebeye," Gaines said. "We saved his life-we do a lot of good neighbor things."
In the fall of 2010, USAKA provided another kind of help. About 40,000 gallons of water was taken via barge from Kwajalein to the nearby island of Ebeye as part of a relief effort when that island's water supply system failed. With a failed water purification system, islanders were left with just a four-day supply of water; the Army stepped in to help.
"Some of the units were having a problem, so they were unable to generate fresh water for the population over there," said Gaines. "We stand ready to support our neighbors in Ebeye, especially when there is a health, life or safety issue."
Gaines turned to his director of logistics, Capt. Michael Quigley, to help with the water issue on Ebeye. The captain sent a reconnaissance team to the island to assess the state of its water supply system. Ultimately, some repair work had to be done to fix supply lines on the island before fresh water could be brought in.
By evening, a water barge travelled the short distance from Kwajalein to Ebeye, and once there, the fresh water was pumped into the island's water system. Quigley said providing such support to the Marshallese is something he, as a logistics officer, is expected to know how to do.
"It is one of the aspects of full-spectrum operations," he said. "Coming from two tours in Iraq, doing multiple things, including both transportation and some humanitarian support, you are kind of expected as a logistics officer to keep that in your back pocket-being able to pull that out when you need it."
About 1,000 Marshallese come from Ebeye to Kwajalein each day, where they work in a variety of jobs.
"We have two Marshallese pilots that fly the airplanes," Gaines said. "And we have Marshallese that work on the jet engines. We also have Marshallese in Roi-Namur that are working the technical aspects of the radar. So they run the gamut from picking up coconuts out here to flying our airplanes."
As part of the good neighbor policy with the Marshallese in the atoll, young people from Ebeye are invited at an early age to apply to attend the American school on Kwajalein. Each year about five are accepted to attend school there, beginning in kindergarten, said Al Robinson, principal and superintendent of the schools on Kwajalein.
"Then they have access to our school through high school," he said.
There are about 7,000 children on Ebeye under age 18, and only schools for about 3,400-3,500. The island itself is only about .13 square miles, making Ebeye-with a population density of about 107,000 per square mile-one of the most densely populated places on earth.
The U.S. has had a relationship with the Marshallese since Kwajalein Atoll was taken from the Japanese in February 1944, during Operation Flintlock-part of America's Pacific campaign in World War II.
"This was a U.S. trust territory, and we took care of these folks until 1986, and then it became a sovereign nation," said Gaines.
Since then, the colonel said, the nation has been struggling to emerge as a democracy. But today, the U.S. and the Republic of the Marshall Islands enjoy a unique relationship in that they are signers to a Compact of Free Association. The Compact provides special privileges to Marshallese that citizens of other nations do not have.
"The citizens may go to the United States, study, work and live without a visa. That's pretty unique in the world," said ambassador to the RMI, Martha Campbell. "Also, we give about $60 million a year in direct Compact funding. Plus, they have access to a lot of U.S. domestic programs to which other countries don't have access."
Some of those programs include Health and Human Services, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Among the highest priorities for both the U.S. and the RMI is health and education in the island nation, Campbell said.
"A lot of the Compact funding goes to those two things, and we are always trying to encourage them to look for best ways on how to use that and make the education system better," she said.
Campbell said the Marshallese have done a good job building new schools with money from the Compact. Almost 200 classrooms have been built across the RMI over the past few years, including an eight-room elementary school that just opened in nearby Alinglaplap.
One of the biggest challenges in the RMI is helping the nation become economically self-sufficient. There are about 60,000 citizens throughout the Marshalls, and the largest employer of those citizens is the government of the Marshall Islands. The second largest employer is USAKA.
Campbell said the Marshallese do have a fledgling fishing industry, and there's a potential for tourism, although the islands are distant from population centers, and promoting tourism may prove challenging. Now, she said, byproducts from coconut harvesting, called copra, fuel trade on the islands.
"Most of these islands, what they do to pay for a living is gathering copra, which is a coconut byproduct," Campbell said. "They process it and get it ready and wait for the ship to come."
Copra can be used to make oils, and Campbell said there's a study being funded to see if that oil can be used for fuel. Availability and cost of fuel is also a problem for RMI, as is transportation.
The ambassador also said that climate change is another concern.
"It doesn't take very much to make them disappear. The high point on Majuro (the capital of the Marshall Islands) is 10 feet above sea level, and that's the top of the bridge connecting two islands," Campbell said. "We are supporting a lot of disaster preparedness planning for the Marshall Islands."
She said the RMI government is working to develop plans with the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency as well as with the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, part of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Despite problems in the RMI, the nation remains an important ally to the defense of the U.S., said Campbell, due in part to its strategic position in the Pacific and to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site located there.
Gaines said as commander at USAKA, he intends to maintain a "good neighbor" policy, in part, because of the importance the Marshallese play in keeping his installation operating.
"A good portion of our work force comes from Ebeye and they are an important part of our community-both the work force and the Marshallese people," Gaines said. "So from my perspective, as a commander, any time they need our help, we are going to step in."
While you probably should, you really don't need to look both ways when you cross a street on Kwajalein.
The speed limit is 15 mph, and most people ride a bike to work, including the installation commander.
"Some people liken this place to the 1960s," said Col. Joseph N. Gaines, commander, U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll. "We only have a few TV channels. There are no cell phones and we don't have high-speed Internet. Nobody has a car here, so we ride our bikes. And entertaining here is less centered around electronics and more centered around what you and your neighbors do."
Kwajalein Island, about 3.3 miles from one end to the other, is the largest of about 97 coral islands in the Kwajalein Atoll. The circle of islands is one of 29 that make up the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The U.S. has had military personnel there since it ousted the Japanese in February 1944, during Operation Flintlock-part of America's Pacific campaign during World War II.
Today, Kwajalein Island and about 10 other islands in the atoll are used by the Army as part of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site. About 1,200 Americans live on the island-including about 700 defense contractors, 50 government civilians, 12 Soldiers and the Families of American workers.
There's no cell service on Kwajalein, the cable TV includes about three channels from the American Forces Network and checking your e-mail still involves a telephone line and modem.
"I don't think you'll find this anywhere else in the world," said Gaines. "Technology has pretty much reached the entire globe. And we're pretty much high-tech from the mission side, but lifestyle-wise, we're low-tech."
Gaines said a recently installed undersea fiber optic cable will provide better data rates. The new cable, called HANTRU1, stretches more than 1,800 miles from Kwajalein to Guam. The line could ultimately carry 160 gigabits per second over two fiber pairs.
"There's going to be a non-mission aspect to that which will bring high-speed (Internet) to the island," Gaines said. "That will allow people to do voice-over-Internet. It will also allow people to stream television, and all kinds of things that drove Americans into their homes and away from entertainment with the neighbors. That hasn't happened here yet, but it is coming. We'll see how that affects the island."
For residents of Kwajalein today, entertainment means being outside with neighbors, playing sports and taking advantage of what nature has provided: water, sand and sun.
"We play a lot of sports-I coached softball, so both of the kids play," said Callie Chavana, a long-time resident of Kwajalein. "We do a lot of things outdoors. Every Monday is the day we go to the beach, and about once a week the kids get to have a play date and invite a friend over to the house."
Chavana has been on Kwajalein for four years, and is now an Army civilian. She lives on the island with her two children and husband. Her parents also live on Kwajalein-they too are employees. Chavana is a "retread," someone who lived on Kwajalein before-she graduated from the high school there and came back as an adult.
"This place has a history of retreads," said Gaines. "They're people that come back again and again. Almost everybody here is either a long-term resident or a retread."
It's the lifestyle and safety of island life, said Chavana, which made her want to bring her Family.
"The children have a lot more freedom than they would in the United States," she said. "They leave in the morning on their own to ride to school and I can meet them home for lunch."
There's really no crime on the island-everybody is there with the Army's permission, and everybody has a job. So the safety, sense of community, and almost non-existent commute for most people, are big draws.
"We have a lot more freedom here than in the States," said Evan Rowell, a 12-year-old student at George Seitz Elementary School.
"We can ride our bikes everywhere and play all around the island," said his brother, 9-year-old Carson, also a student at the school.
He agreed the safety of the island allows kids a freedom sometimes not seen stateside. "In the United States you can't really go anywhere. You can only stay in your house or go out in your yard and stuff."
Evan and Carson live on the island with their mother, Heidi, and their father, Chief Warrant Officer 3 James Rowell.
"We're here for two years and we extended for a third year," said Heidi. The Family came from a previous assignment at Fort Eustis, Va. "It's so safe here. There's no crime, and no need to worry about them getting in trouble. It's like a small American town in the middle of the ocean. Everybody looks out for each other. It's just a 3-mile-long island and you'd think you would get bored, but you never get bored."
Heidi said she likes to scuba, a hobby enjoyed by many on the island. And the small size of the island, its white sandy beaches and close proximity to crystal-clear blue water, make it easy for her to fit her hobby into her day.
"I drop my kids off at school-they are all in elementary school, except for my 4-year-old. I can drop her off in the afternoon and grab a tank and go diving with a friend and be back by 3:30 to pick her up," Heidi said.
Scuba is one of the most popular activities for residents, said the island's community activities director, Steven Gauthier.
"I believe the biggest club is the scuba club, which by (its) own statistics has more dives on an annual basis than any other club (in) the world," he said. Gauthier estimates 75 percent of islanders participate in the scuba club.
Besides managing the island's recreational activities-something Gauthier said is critical to maintaining morale-his office also handles the island's hospital, post office and food-service operations.
"We have to be really responsive to the customer," Gauthier said. "We try to meet their needs as much as possible, because there is no alternative. In Germany and Korea you can at least go outside the gate and do things like karaoke or the clubs. Here, there's nothing outside the gate."
To keep the 1,200 islanders occupied when they are not at work, school or church, Gauthier says there's a sizable array of options. There's a bowling alley, and two theaters, for instance. And one of those theaters is a "drive-in," where residents show up on their bicycles. There's also a nine-hole golf course, fishing, diving, boating and snorkeling. There's even a yacht club.
But many of the activities are supported through organizations staffed by the residents themselves, who are volunteers.
"It's a small island, and there's not a lot to do," Gauthier said. "If you don't make it or create it yourself, it's not going to happen. A private organization gives you a chance to get together with people with like-interests and gives you a little motivation to come up with these activities and keep them going. Without the private organizations, it would be a much quieter place."
There are nearly 40 such organizations on Kwajalein, which include the yacht club, diving club, golfing club and surf club. There's even a shortwave radio club, Gauthier said.
Volunteer work on Kwajalein is big. People there are boxed in by the island's size and location (Hawaii is an expensive, five-hour plane ride from the island), so volunteering keeps many busy.
"I do a lot of volunteering," said Heidi. "If you've never volunteered before, this is the place where they need it. There is no one else out here. You're in the middle of the ocean, and to make things happen, you have to get out there. You have to get involved."
Aaron Mathieson, a senior at the Kwajalein Junior-Senior High School, has occupied at least some of his time on the island with volunteer work and with the Boy Scouts. He and other members of the National Honor Society went to Ebeye Island, just north of Kwajalein, to volunteer. Ebeye is an island of about 15,000 Marshallese civilians.
"We went in and asked all the schools there for a wish list to do fundraisers for school supplies," he said. As part of the Kwajalein's Keystone Club, he helped bring sporting equipment to Ebeye as well. And with the Boy Scouts, he helped out in Ebeye's schools.
"We built bookshelves for the schools and then they have wooden partitions (so) we painted and fixed those," Mathieson said. "When you go over there, the little kids want to hold your hand and stand next to you. That's a good feeling to help them out."
Lisa Ansley, wife of Lt. Col. Steven Ansley-now stationed in Afghanistan-volunteers with the Yokwe Yuk Women's Club and the American Legion. She's also a substitute teacher and works in the school's library. She said volunteering on Kwajalein helps her meet people.
"The best part is, you get to know everybody," she said. "You go to church with the same people you go to school with and the same people that you do your evening activities with, and hopefully you get along. Generally it's great here, it's a tight community."
Ansley's husband had been assigned to USAKA following an assignment in northern Virginia. After finishing his tour at Kwajalein, he was deployed to Afghanistan. His Family, including Lisa and two daughters, Heather, 8, and Nikky, 11, were allowed to stay behind while he completed his deployment.
The two girls say they don't miss much about the United States.
"The only thing I miss is snow and water parks," said Nikky. "And my friends."
Her younger sister was of the same mind.
"My friends and teacher," Heather said. "And restaurants. And now when we go back to the States-well, I'm sick of cars. Being here so long makes me feel that cars are ick."
"I will never want a car, even when I turn 16," Nikky said. "Never ever, ever."
Their mother said it was the traffic she didn't miss-especially in the Washington, D.C. area. It was traffic and distance that kept her Family apart, she said.
"The things that I've got here that I specifically don't miss about the States are much more in the forefront of my mind," Lisa said. "I don't miss traffic and I don't miss having to get in the car. I don't miss having to miss one soccer game because it's all the way on the other side of the county while I'm at another soccer game. Here I can say you go to your game and you go to your game. And because they are two blocks apart, I can spend half the time at each."
Chavana said she loves being on Kwajalein. But for the sake of her two children, she wants to make sure they get back to the U.S., just so they can learn what life in the real world is like.
"I think there's probably a part of normalcy they miss here," she said. "I graduated with some kids that were born here and had never lived in the United States. I would not recommend it. I think kids definitely need to know what the States are like."
While Kwajalein is certainly not the U.S., and life there is greatly different than even life on a military installation in Germany, Italy, Korea or Japan, the Army has made sure that the same things available to those living at any military base are available to those on Kwajalein.
Housing on Kwajalein, for instance, is free. And the "downtown" area of the island includes a dive shop, the Micronesian gift shop, an exchange, and a shoppette. There's even the full contingent of AAFEES-contracted fast-food options, including a Burger King, Baskin-Robbins, Subway and Anthony's Pizza.
And close by is a dining facility for those on the island who are unaccompanied, and a grocery store for those who brought their Families. And for a grocery store that gets shipments by helicopter and a twice-monthly barge, it's fairly well stocked, residents say.
"I was pleasantly surprised when I got here at the fruits and vegetables the grocery store has," said Karen Klumb. "We were in Okinawa and also in Australia and it was real hard to get a lot of the fresh fruits and vegetables where we worked, because we were so remote. I figured this was even more remote so we would have less. But in reality, we can get almost anything here."
Klumb is an Army employee on unpaid leave to Kwajalein from her job at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. She came to the island to be with her husband, who took a job at USAKA. While she doesn't have a paid job on Kwajalein, she volunteers as part of the Yokwe Yuk Women's Club, and serves as treasurer for the Micronesian gift shop.
Probably the greatest benefit of living on Kwajalein, islanders say, is that the small size of the island and its isolation mean Families who live there can spend more time together.
Heather Mayer, whose husband, Ralph, brought her and their two young children, Katelyn, 7, and Nathan, 5, to live on Kwajalein almost two years ago, explained: "We get a better chance here to spend quality time together. And we spend almost every lunch together. That is something we would not get in the States."