By Sheila C Gideon (SMDC/ARSTRAT)January 18, 2013
U.S. ARMY KWAJALEIN ATOLL, Marshall Islands - Christopher Loeak was the president of his class in high school. In that role, he visited Kwajalein many years ago. On Wednesday, Loeak returned to Kwajalein, this time as the president of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Loeak visited Kwajalein Schools Jan. 16 with Lt. Gen. Richard Formica, commanding general, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, and the U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll command. During Loeak's first visit, it is doubtful that many knew his name; however, this time, many Marshallese children who attend the Ri'katak program at Kwajalein Schools not only knew his name, but knew he is the RMI president, and could point him out in the room.
Kwajalein Schools Superintendant Al Robinson toured the command group around the two campuses to give them an idea of what Kwajalein schools offer, and provided a look into the Ri'katak program. There are 52 Ri'katak students at Kwajalein Schools. Every year, three students are integrated and work their way up through the system.
There are 250 students at Kwajalein Schools, so Ri'katak students make up about 20 percent of the student population. Robinson boasted about the past successful Ri'katak students who have graduated and moved on to distinguished colleges or entered into the military.
At George Seitz Elementary School, they visited Jennifer Cossey's kindergarten class, Cher Kirk's third-grade class and Anne Jahnke's fifth-grade class. They then toured the high school campus and talked to teen students there.
At the third-grade class, Ri'katak student Verlene Lorok knew the RMI president's name, but not what he looked like. She was surprised when he was standing right behind her. At the fifth-grade class, Ri'katak student David Kabua knew Leoak's name and was even able to point him out in the room. At the kindergarten class, Ri'katak student Kevin Drebon got to shake Loeak's hand.
Loeak addressed the students.
"American and Marshallese students studying together is very valuable and a good experience," he said. "To the students from Ebeye, I'm very proud of you."
He told them they are lucky and very fortunate to go to school on Kwajalein.
"I wish I had the opportunity when I was growing up on Ebeye. Be good students and be good neighbors to your fellow students," he said. "I will be thinking of you. I am proud of what you are doing here."
Formica asked the students several questions about what they liked best about living on Kwajalein and what some of the challenges are.
"Like the (RMI) president, I'm very proud of the relationship we have at this school to educate American and Marshallese students side-by-side and together," Formica said. He told the students that one day they'll look back at their time here and appreciate the opportunity to learn with students from a different country. "This is a big deal to have president Loeak here to come and see you." When they are older, Formica said they will remember meeting a president of a country; not a lot of kids get that experience.
U.S. Ambassador to the RMI, Thomas Armbruster, asked the kids what they want to be when they grow up. Fifth-grade answers included a lawyer, paleontologist, marine photographer, football players, soldier and teacher. "You've got great teachers and you're off to a great start. Good luck," said Armbruster.