Monthly Archives: July 2013

US Countdown: 6


Down to the single digits now, less than 6 days left on island, and the reality of leaving Kwajalein probably forever still hasn’t quite started to sink in. I don’t think it will until I’m on the plane, heading down the runway. Which by the way, I see the old DC-8s are coming for ATI in place of the C-17s this month (new planes, I think 757s, still not ready yet), so I think I just might have dodged the bullet of flying on a plane with no windows. Though the adventure of flying on a C-17 for the first time could be interesting. But also claustrophobic in spite of all the space. I love windows.


I think I’m just about ready to go; my bags are packed with the exception of a few sets of clothes (mostly living out of suitcases now), room is now thoroughly cleaned and ready for the final inspection (just have to avoid walking on the floors the next couple days…wish my childhood fantasy of walking on ceilings could come true, but then I’d just have to clean the ceilings), I have most of the signatures I need for my PCS (permanent change of station) clearance form, and my work is throwing me a goodbye party tomorrow, with pizza and chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Just 3 more day shifts to go, and I’ll be finished working on Kwajalein! Maybe then I’ll take a bit of time this weekend to enjoy myself, and go to the beach and take a last bike ride around the island.

I officially changed my address today with the USPS, which also felt rather, well, official. No more mail to be received at Kwajalein. Now my postal address will be my parents’ house for about 3 weeks, before I find out what my first New Zealand address will be.

Yikes, I will be IN New Zealand in less than 27 days. Very exciting and just a bit scary at the same time!

Coming down the home stretch!

Categories: Kwajalein, Marshall Islands, Ramblings | Leave a comment

Kwajalein’s Bread and Butter

The US Army's USS Worthy, at home in Kwajalein Harbor. The Worthy can travel long distances to set up for mission activities, where they track and observe various mission activities.

The Worthy, a missile range instrumentation ship at home in Kwajalein Harbor. The Worthy can travel long distances to set up for mission activities.

So why is the US Army interested in renting several islands in the Marshall Islands? A short answer is for the purpose of various test rocket missions, as an isolated area in the middle of the ocean.

While many of the civilian contractors on Kwajalein may have a rather normal sounding job (i.e., teachers, air traffic controllers, meteorologists, etc.), we all are here to support mission activities, primarily for the US Department of Defense. Basically we all get our paychecks from Uncle Sam, even though most of us don’t actually work directly for the government.

Coming out here, I have had an amazing opportunity to be a part of and to witness several interesting missions for the US Army, MDA, NASA, etc.

A Minuteman III approaching Kwajalein Atoll on re-entry

A Minuteman III approaching Kwajalein Atoll on re-entry, shooting across the handle of the Big Dipper

The most common type of mission we participate in is the Glory Trip (GT). An unarmed Minuteman III (intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM) is launched from Vandenberg AFB (in southern California) towards Kwajalein Atoll, a distance of about 5,000 miles that only takes some 20-30 minutes (according to Wikipedia, they can travel at up to Mach 23).

Most of the missiles splash harmlessly into the nearby ocean or occasionally the lagoon, or even terminate on the tiny island of Illeginni for the odd land target.


Bigger bucks are sunk into intercept missions. We just attempted one of those this last weekend (LA Times: Problem-plagued missile defense system fails in $214-million test).

These missions are pretty much what they sound like; rockets are launched and other missiles try to shoot them down. Sometimes the rockets are launched from Roi-Namur and sometimes from Meck. Even little Omelek has had launches in the past. SpaceX used to use Omelek as one of their launch sites, but pulled out not long after I got here, due to budget cuts. Interceptors may be launched from Meck, Vandenberg, Hawaii, ships, etc.

Meck Island, Kwajalein Atoll; the site of many of the mission activities

Meck Island, with Omelek just to the north (up). The harbor with one of the docked catamarans is on the left (lagoon) side

Meck Island is about halfway up the atoll, on the east reef. No one lives permanently on Meck, though some live there temporarily; for the bigger missions they set up large tents.

Meck, with Launch Hill the raised area right of middle. Looking southeast, with the ocean on the bottom and the lagoon on top. Omelek is the next island north (off to the right) of Meck.

Meck, from the northeast (ocean) side, with Launch Hill the raised area right of middle



Workers generally commute from Kwaj to Meck on a daily catamaran. The journey takes just under an hour at full speed.

Private Anderson at Kwajalein Harbor, one of two catamarans that daily takes workers to Meck and back

The Private Anderson at Kwajalein Harbor, one of two catamarans that daily takes workers to Meck and back

Not all of the missions are about testing warfare, though; sometimes we get more scientific missions like cool NASA launches.

There have been two NASA missions from Kwajalein that I have seen in the last couple of years.

The first was the launch of a high-tech x-ray satellite for studying black holes and such, called NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array). The satellite was tucked away inside a Pegasus rocket, which was dropped at a high altitude from a large aircraft, an L1011 called a Stargazer.

Stargazer landing at Kwajalein, with the Pegasus rocket attached to the belly

Stargazer landing at Kwajalein, with the Pegasus rocket attached to the belly



One of my favorite parts of this mission was getting the chance to view the inside of the aircraft and see the rocket up close, while talking to NASA folks at an open “house” (aircraft?).

Most of the inside, where economy seating would be, was stripped down to reduce weight

Most of the inside, where economy seating would be, was stripped down to reduce weight

Where first class seating would be, they had a large instrument panel set up for controlling the rocket and deployment of the satellite. The screen on the right is showing a simulation.

Where first class seating would be, they had a large instrument panel set up for controlling the rocket and deployment of the satellite. The screen on the right is showing a simulation.

Living out my fantasy of being a pilot! The real pilot was taking my photo and explaining what did what.

Living out my fantasy of being a pilot! The real pilot was taking my photo and explaining what did what.

On mission night, the aircraft flew a ways south of the atoll and then released the Pegasus. When the first stage of the rocket fired, I was able to go up on the roof of the weather station and watch it fly high into the sky. I also saw the second stage, and just missed the third stage as I went back inside thinking we wouldn’t see it after waiting a while (the site manager remained outside a little longer and did see it, though).

The second NASA mission occurred just a couple of months ago, and was a two-in-one mission, called EVEX/MOSC. The object of this mission was to study turbulence and radio waves in the ionosphere just after sunset.

There were four rockets launched from Roi (two for EVEX on the same night, and two for MOSC each on a different night), which shot up into the ionosphere and released harmless colored chemical tracers that were then tracked by various instruments.



I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect when I looked outside for this first one (MOSC), so what I saw shocked me and creeped me out.

Two or three minutes after I saw the rocket shoot up from Roi, I saw a small, brilliant pink orb rapidly grow in size to about maybe five times the size of the full moon. It was smooth but a bit fuzzy, bright (in a near pitch black sky), and pinkish purple, and if I did not know what it was, I might have been completely freaked out. It looked like something out of a bad scifi movie.

(As an aside, NASA was sending some of their people out to schools through the Marshall Islands, trying to educate the people a bit about what was going to happen. I think this was mainly so they wouldn’t worry too much, despite being rather used to mission oddities.)

After the orb hung in the sky for a few minutes, it started to trail off and fade, and after about 20 minutes it was gone.

I joked that NASA knew it was my birthday that day, as I got quite the show. 🙂

A few days later, the conditions were right for the EVEX launches.

First NASA EVEX cloud

First NASA EVEX cloud

NASA EVEX clouds (lower red cloud and green trail are from the rockets' descent, while the upper two are from the ascent)

NASA EVEX clouds (lower red cloud and green trail are from the rockets’ descent, while the upper two are from the ascent)

EVEX was also bizarre, but I was slightly more prepared this time for what I might see. This time we had a couple of green streaks and two large red orbs.

A couple of days later, MOSC was able to launch their final rocket, which looked pretty much like the first, though not quite as impressive (still very weird and mesmerizing).

So what do I do during missions? In short, as you could probably guess, the meteorologists provide weather support, giving more detailed and frequent forecasts and nowcasts (very short-term forecasts) to mission test directors. We don’t make any of the decisions as to whether the launch goes or not, but given the weather criteria, we advise those who make the decisions.

Mission time can be very exciting and very stressful, depending on the complexity of the mission and whether or not the weather decides to cooperate. I am glad that I have had such a wonderful opportunity to be a part of something like this, especially the scientific missions that may benefit people for years to come.

For more mission-related (including Meck Island) photos, check out my missions and Meck Flickr set.

Categories: Kwajalein, Marshall Islands, Roi-Namur | Leave a comment

Ebeye: Island of Contrasts


A few days ago I touched briefly on the history and geography of Kwajalein Atoll when I wrote about Roi-Namur. The third island up on the east reef from Kwajalein Island is Ebeye (pronounced EE-bye…though half the time now I mix up my pronunciation of eBay and Ebeye).

I wrote a little bit about Ebeye on my Kwajalein blog a couple of years ago, but that was before I stepped foot on the island and I never did get around to posting my photos from a couple of visits I took to the island since.

So for the newcomers, those who have forgotten, and for the sake of a bit of descriptive text as I finish going through old photos of my time in the Marshall Islands, here are a few pieces of info about Ebeye.

Me, standing at Beach Park on the south tip of Ebeye. Looking south across the reef towards Big and Little Bustard (left) and Kwajalein

At Beach Park on the south tip of Ebeye. Looking south across the reef towards Big and Little Bustard (left) and Kwajalein

Ebeye Island is a little smaller than Kwajalein Island, at just about 80 acres. Yet this tiny island is home to over 15,000 Marshallese. It is estimated that over 50% of the population is under the age of 18, which I find easy to believe while wandering the streets and seeing so many children out and about, both in and out of school.


Following WWII, when the US took possession of the Marshall Islands from the Japanese, the US conducted several nuclear tests in the Marshalls (most famously at Bikini Atoll) and moved many Marshallese to Ebeye. When the US started to use Kwajalein Atoll for other missile tests, Marshallese from the mid-atoll were also moved to Ebeye, thus setting the stage for overpopulation and various social and economical problems such as a lack of food, water, jobs, and money.

While Ebeye is very much in third world conditions, most of the faces I have seen are smiling, and make me want to be more grateful for the many blessings I have been given. I have found the Marshallese quite friendly and social in general, and only wished I knew a little bit of the language (most of my Marshallese doesn’t go much farther than “Yokwe” == hello, welcome, or literally “you are a rainbow” and “Kommol Tata” = thank you very much. See, now you speak about as much as I do!). Many of the (especially younger) Marshallese are brought up learning English as well as their native language, but most signs you will see through the Marshall Islands are written in both English and Marshallese. The Marshall Islands also uses the US dollar as their currency, even after they gained their independence.

Ebeye police and fire station

Ebeye police and fire station

A number of Marshallese from Ebeye work on Kwajalein each day, and take the daily ferries between the islands. The ferry takes about 20 minutes, and is free both ways (you just swipe your badge at the Kwajalein dock security checkpoint going to and fro). Generally the only Marshallese who are allowed to live on Kwajalein Island (as it is a US army base) are those married to Americans.

Ebeye Harbor; the large building in the center is the fish market

Ebeye Harbor; the large building in the center is the fish market

In stark contrast to Kwajalein, residents of Ebeye are allowed to own private vehicles, and you will frequently see taxis (generally pickup trucks with people riding in the back). Ironic for a smaller island with 15 times the population.

Mobile phones are also available on Ebeye. I’ve been told foreign phones will not be able to pick up the network, but you can purchase a local phone with a number of minutes to make local calls. Kwajalein does not have any cell towers so we rely on landlines and pagers, and since landlines are routed through the US, calls between Kwajalein and Ebeye are strangely considered international.

And while Kwajalein is still stuck in the dark ages of the Internet, with only dial-up available in residential areas, Ebeye has (relatively, compared to Kwaj anyway) high speed Internet.

One of the nicer houses on Ebeye

One of the nicer houses on Ebeye

So even though many of the houses people live in with several large families look like old shacks with chicken coop wire for windows, and the poverty and lack of clean water and sanitation is saddening, you will see some strange contrasts throughout this tiny island.


Early this year one of our technicians at the weather station, a Marshallese man called Ernie, told me of a Christian school on Ebeye (Ebeye Gem School) that wanted me to go speak with the 4th through 7th graders about weather and forecasting during “education week” (a week of different speakers and activities). They had never had any speakers from Kwajalein before, and I felt honored to go talk to the kids.

I found that many of the teachers are American volunteers, sponsored by a missionary organization, and even the Marshallese teachers are required to teach in English. The school began about 7 years ago, and each year they add on an extra room to their building, for the next highest grade. They hope to go to at least 9th grade from what I understand. Most of the buildings around the school were relatively new (the church building I spoke in was not yet finished, but I heard they’re finishing it up and having the dedication this month I think).

The children were so friendly and grateful (and with so many good questions!), as were the teachers, and while they felt more blessed to have me there, I wound up feeling as if I had the greater blessing to go there.

The blue building is the 7th Day Adventist school

The blue building is the 7th Day Adventist school, one of several private schools on Ebeye

For more photos from around (and above, via helicopter!) Ebeye, check out my Ebeye Flickr set.

Categories: Kwajalein, Marshall Islands | 2 Comments

Under the Sea


Instead of writing about individual scuba dives, some of which I have already done on my Kwajalein blog, I’d like to share a bit about the experience as a whole, where I have been, and where I hope to go in the near future.

I have always loved the ocean. I grew up in Washington State, and spent a lot of time in the mountains and a little bit of time on the coast. If my family had to decide between mountains and ocean, my Mom and I would always say ocean, while my sister and Dad would always say mountains.

I love looking across the ocean and thinking about what and who is on the other side, and what all is under the water. Now that I have lived on a tiny island surrounded by nothing but water for two years, I yearn for the mountains, so am that much more excited that I can have the best of both worlds in New Zealand.

At any rate, coming to Kwajalein I figured I would finally take the plunge and learn how to scuba dive.

My second day of diving; photo taken by my instructor, Doug Hepler. Used with permission.

My second day of diving; photo taken by my instructor, Doug Hepler. Used with permission.

Within two months of my move, I was certified as an open water diver, which meant that I could dive to 60 feet.

On my first dive, I fell in love.

Kwajalein’s waters are warm, clear, full of marine life and wrecks, and not full of people (actually I liked that about diving; you can hang out with people without having to talk with them). It truly feels like swimming in a giant tropical aquarium, and it’s right in my backyard.

I love a friendly octopus

I love a friendly octopus!

To tell the truth though, it took me a couple of extra lessons in the pool before I passed that portion of the scuba class and was able to go on the first dives. I have long enjoyed swimming, but my biggest fear has always been drowning, and I had a hard time relaxing that first time breathing under water.

I then remembered a memory I had long suppressed; when I was about 5 years old or so, I jumped off a diving board in a public pool near Seattle, and lost my orientation. I remember swimming down instead of up, and then I blacked out. When I came to, a friend of the family was leaning over me, probably assessing whether or not he needed to perform CPR. I guessed that’s probably where my long-standing fear of drowning came from.

I’m generally one to face my fears head on. I was terrified of my first tornado, so I decided to go storm chasing. I was terrified of drowning, and decided to scuba dive as soon as I had the opportunity. I see a cliff, I want to walk to the edge and look down. Okay, not always, but sometimes I feel that urge, but know I’m only invincible in my dreams.


Taken by my dive instructor, Doug Hepler. Used with permission.

I really don’t say this to boast, though, but more for the benefit of those who are scared to go diving. If I can do it, you can do it.

A few months after I completed my initial training, I completed the advanced diver class, and was certified to dive to the recreational dive limit of 130 feet. I also took Nitrox training, which means I can dive with a higher blend of oxygen, allowing me to stay in the water longer on some deep dives, with lower risk of getting decompression sickness (DCS, aka the bends).

Since I love photography, it was only natural that I should want to take my camera underwater. After I began with just a relatively cheap point-and-shoot waterproof camera, I decided to go all out and upgrade my DSLR to a Canon 7D and purchase a full underwater system for it.


Yes, it’s heavy, and a bit unwieldy, but underwater it’s only slightly negatively buoyant and works like a dream (most of the time). I’ve been told I look like a submarine on night dives, with my two strobe lights on and my wide angle 8-inch-diameter dome port.

While it was quite expensive, I have not once regretted spending the money. I have only to improve my photography skills, as the equipment is top notch and I expect to use it for years to come.

Underwater photography has given me more of a purpose and happiness while diving and snorkeling. While I love to just quietly observe marine life, the most dull dive can usually be made interesting if I have my camera with me, as I can always see something from a different perspective.


Clownfish are my favorite fish to see and photograph!

I have enjoyed about 100 dives around Kwajalein Atoll. I could have had many more, but did start to experience a bit of burnout earlier this year as I had already been to many of the sites so many times, and wanted something fresh. In spite of what I just said about my camera making a difference, I just needed a bit of a break to do other things (such as spearfishing in the tide pools for lobsters and crabs at night–quite fun!), and felt pretty happy about some of my photos from many of the sites.

I have dove from Kwajalein to Roi-Namur, and so far my only trip outside of the Marshall Islands to dive was to go to Kona, Hawaii, to see manta rays (my blog post from that dive). I have seen manta rays here at Kwajalein, but Kona is one of the famous spots for large groups of them.


I had never seen such beautiful creatures, and it remains my favorite dive.

Aside from the marine life, Kwajalein Atoll has many WWII wrecks. I already wrote about the planes near Roi-Namur recently. One of the best wreck dives near Kwajalein is the Prinz Eugen, a German WWII battleship which you can learn more about on this Wikipedia link.

Torpedoes on the Prinz Eugen

Torpedoes on the Prinz Eugen

There are so many highlights photos I could post; so many of my favorites. So instead of bogging you down too much here, I hope you will go to my Flickr collection of dive photos.

Clown Triggerfish

Clown Triggerfish

As to where I hope to go diving in the near future, New Zealand has lots of great diving, so I’ve heard. I’m just going to need to get a much thicker wet suit or learn how to use a dry suit, as the waters are just a bit colder there!

There are lots of interesting sites for marine life, including probably the most famous, Poor Knights, off the northern peninsula of the North Island. There are also opportunities to go diving in and around an active volcano, and to see some wrecks such as the Rainbow Warrior, a Greenpeace ship blown up by the French in 1985.

Speaking of facing fears….they also have Great White Shark cage diving off of Stewart Island, just south of the South Island. I think I’m going to have to do that at some point soon!

Categories: Adventure Sports, Hawaii, Kwajalein, Marshall Islands, New Zealand, Roi-Namur, Scuba Diving and Snorkeling, United States | 2 Comments

The Magic of Elevators


Some kids are fascinated by elevators. Aka lifts. Aka liffts as they are creatively known in Wales.

They like to push all the buttons.

Me, I was fascinated by escalators. When given the choice, I always preferred using an escalator, as I thought there was something rather magical in a moving staircase, provided you get out of the way at the end so your feet don’t get eaten. I still love escalators and tend to prefer them to this day.

Elevators have always made me feel slightly claustrophobic (unless it’s a glass elevator, those are cool), for the same reason I always get a window seat on a plane. Speaking of, I admit I’m a bit nervous to find that I’ll be leaving Kwaj on a plane with no windows, so my last look at the island as I walk up the steps to board, will indeed be my last look at the outside world for several hours until I get off at Hickam AFB in Honolulu. At the same time, it’s kind of cool that I’ll get the chance to fly on a C17, for the first and likely last time in my life.

But I digress.

When my company sent me to Kwajalein two years ago, they arranged for me to stay in a not inexpensive hotel in Honolulu, the night before taking my flight here. The Ala Moana Hotel is a lovely place, and is adjacent to the Ala Moana Mall, making it an ideal choice if you make it to Hono in time to do some shopping.

You can see the top of one of Ala Moana's towers on the right, with the two antennae on top.

You can see the top of one of Ala Moana’s towers on the right, with the two antennae on top.

When I checked in, I was told my room would be in a tower (12th floor or something like that) for which I would need my room key to access the elevator. Every room above the 4th floor requires the guest to insert the key card inside the elevator and then push the right button to go up. I had never before stayed in a hotel where this was required.

I walked rather doubtfully to the elevators, and pushed the up button. One of the four sets of doors opened, and I rolled my bags inside and took a look at the panel. Just then some other people walked in, inserted their card, pushed their button, and the doors closed. I tried to quickly push my button as well, but it didn’t light up, and was afraid of making too much a fool of myself by fumbling with my card when I didn’t know what I was doing, so I played a greater fool and silently pretended I was going to the same floor. (I’m the same helpless person who to this day has not been able to figure out how to work an entertainment center on the seat in front of me on a plane, even while watching a six-year-old next to me power hers up and fly through the options and get to watch a movie.)

Once the others got off, I inserted my card and pushed my button. Sadly I was not fast enough, though, and the elevator went up past my floor and the doors opened and someone else got on, and pushed the ground floor button. I again could not get the elevator to stop in time at my floor, and so I continued going up and down a few times before I finally humbled myself to ask someone for help.

Despite this faux pas, I have stayed at the Ala Moana three times since while traveling back to Kwaj after vacations, as it is a good hotel and well located.

The view from my room (looking down on the mall), after I managed to find it.

The view from my room (looking down on the mall), after I managed to find it.

On my last visit, a month ago, I ran into a similar problem. My room was on the 5th floor, and the hotel staff told me where the elevators were. (Yeah, yeah, I had done this three times before and had it down now, or so I thought.) I went to the main elevators, pushed the up button, and walked in. I was about to insert my key when I saw THERE WAS NO 5TH FLOOR! Just like in superstitious hotels where the buttons skip from floor 12 to floor 14, this elevator went from button 4 to button 6.

Hmm. Not to be deterred, I coolly swiped my card and pushed button 6. On floor 6, I looked around for the stairs. I searched what felt like half the floor (come on, where are the fire maps showing where to evacuate in case of emergency?), and all I found to help me were some more elevators. I thought I might try these, as I was correct in assuming by now that only certain elevators stopped at certain floors in the tower (maybe I should have listened to the staff?).

I pushed the down button, and it wasn’t long before a set of doors opened, and to my slight dismay I saw the elevator was occupied by another young woman. I quickly inserted my card and pushed the now apparent button 5.

“Only going down one floor?” she asked.

“Yes, I wound up going up in an elevator that didn’t have a 5th button.”

Looking like she was trying to suppress her laughter, she said, “well now you’ll have to just go back up, as it looks like you weren’t fast enough to get it to stop at your floor.”

Down at the ground floor again, I finally managed to get the elevator to go up and stop where I wanted it to. Whew.

Following my flight to Hono on a plane with no windows, I will be staying a 5th (and possibly last, or at least for a long while) time at the Ala Moana. Let’s hope I manage to find my room on the first try this time.

Come on, where are the escalators?

Categories: Hawaii, Misadventures, United States | 3 Comments

Roi-Namur: Island of Misfits?


Let’s begin with a brief history and geography lesson which may be helpful for better understanding this post. The country in which I have lived for the last two years, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, is located in the west central Pacific Ocean, and is made up of many islands and atolls. An atoll is a sunken volcano, where all that is left is a ring of coral that builds a reef around a lagoon. Each of these atolls may be made up of dozens of small islets and islands.

I live on Kwajalein Atoll, supposedly the largest atoll in the world (disputed by Chuuk Atoll, in the nearby Federated States of Micronesia). My particular island, Kwajalein, is about the largest island in the atoll, at a whopping one square mile. Kwajalein is located at the far southern point of the atoll.

During World War II, the Marshall Islands played an important role in the Pacific theater. The Americans eventually won out, but many remnants of the war, such as both Japanese and American structures, have remained (not to mention many ships and planes that have proved excellent dive sites). Since the war, the Marshall Islands gained their freedom, but the USA began to pay big bucks to rent out certain islands for military work.

Japanese Cemetery on Roi-Namur, honoring those who lost their lives defending the island in WWII

Japanese Cemetery on Roi-Namur, honoring those who lost their lives defending the island in WWII

That’s the short story, and that’s the basic reason why I’m here; to serve a contract on a US Army base, to support test rocket launches and the occasional public launches such as NASA satellites.

There are about 1,000 people that live on Kwajalein Island, most of whom are American civilian contractors. Roi-Namur Island is also rented by the US, and is situated about 40 miles away on the north point of the atoll, home to about 70 people.

The joke is often told that the misfits and those who possibly annoy their boss are sent to Roi, but in reality it is a nice, quiet place and most of those who are there chose to go there, and tend to stay longer than people that live on Kwaj. It is an even tighter-knit community with less drama on average.

Looking towards the airport and golf course on Roi. The main mode of transportation on Kwaj and Roi is the bicycle, followed by the golf cart ("scooters", as they are called here, may be rented).

Looking towards the airport and golf course on Roi. The main mode of transportation on Kwaj and Roi is the bicycle, followed by the golf cart (“scooters”, as they are called here, may be rented).

Roi and Namur used to be two separate islands, but the narrow strip of water between them was filled in over the years and now the two have become one, Roi-Namur (still generally call it Roi, for short). The people all live on the Roi side, while the many radars that are used to track the missions are located on the Namur side, which is still heavily forested (and infested with rats, hence the nickname for Roi residents–“Roi Rats”).

ALTAIR, the largest radar on Roi-Namur, pokes up above the jungle

ALTAIR, the largest radar on Roi-Namur, pokes up above the jungle

Some people commute to Roi from Kwajalein, about a 20-minute free flight on the metro (see Wikipedia link for photos of this type of small plane, as I have yet to obtain any of my own due to regulations on taking photos around the airport). All you have to do to go to Roi is get your name on the standby list, and as there are several flights each day, most of the time you will be able to make the flight you want (though due to weight limits, any heavier or larger bags may have to be returned to you on a later flight).

I have been able to go to Roi on two occasions. The first was a weekend in March 2012, when I was supposed to go diving but my dive partner missed the flight and I instead spent an enjoyable couple of days with a few teacher friends. The second time was Thanksgiving weekend 2012, when I finally got to go on the dives I wanted.

American WWII bunker

American WWII bunker, Roi-Namur

Roi is a great getaway for Kwaj folks, and I have tried to go back up in the middle of the week, but commuters are given first priority. Also, there are no flights on Sunday, and I rarely have a three-day weekend arranged so that I can go up for a couple of nights. Still, I am glad that I have been able to visit the radars and WWII sites, as well as go on several great dives.

Kwajalein has only a few of the WWII sites left, but Roi-Namur still has many.

Japanese WWII structure

Japanese WWII structure

Remains of a WWII pillbox

Remains of a WWII pillbox

WWII structure

WWII structure

Roi also has a couple excellent beaches, the longest of which my friends and I relaxed on one afternoon.


On my second trip to Roi, I got to dive oceanside, the Eiko Maru or 1st Ship (they have very creative names on Roi…the three ship dive sites are numbered, as are the first eight or so islands on the southeast reef), 8th Island, the Airplane Graveyard, and a C46 cargo plane.

The main reason for my wanting to dive up there was to go to the Airplane Graveyard, but I was actually so impressed by the large number of sharks I saw on the oceanside dive, it was a surprise favorite dive. We saw probably 20 or so sharks, mostly gray reefs, and many of them got quite close to us in their curiosity. The largest ones were probably about 6 feet long.


The Eiko Maru, or 1st Ship as the locals call it, was a Japanese merchant ship sunk some time around WWII. Here we saw some interesting coral formations growing on the ship, and some beautiful (but thankfully harmless) jellyfish.



King post on the Eiko Maru

8th Island was a fun little dive in which we saw some marine life and pretty corals in the shallows, but sadly missed our target of the reef dive site known as the Gardens. The two divers who had been on that dive had only been there once before, and I’m sure it would have been difficult to find if you didn’t know just where it was or the GPS coordinates.

Brain coral, 8th Island

Brain coral, 8th Island

The Airplane Graveyard certainly lived up to expectations. After WWII, about a dozen or so airplanes that the US no longer had need for were removed of their engines and shoved into the lagoon at this site. This was my first time diving airplanes, and it was pretty awesome!



Our final dive of the weekend was a C46 cargo plane. It was empty inside and looked a little sad without the wings, but again was an interesting dive.


I did write a couple short posts from my dive trip on my Kwajalein blog that you can check out if interested, most of which is filled with more photos (Roi Diving and Roi Dive Photos).

I also just started (finally?) a Flickr account, and you may see a good selection of all of my Roi-Namur photos, both above and below water, in this collection.

Categories: Marshall Islands, Roi-Namur | 4 Comments

US Countdown: 15


I have my work visa and plane tickets, most of my belongings are nearly to my parents’ house by now (where I will have a second pack out to have everything sent to NZ), my bags are about as packed as they can be aside from the final prep of the last few days on Kwaj…and I’m counting down (15 days now!) until I get to go see my family for nearly 3 weeks. After the craziness of the last few months, I’m more or less just in a waiting mode now. I can’t even have any more underwater photo sessions, as my scuba and underwater camera gear has already been sent off.

So as I wait and enjoy looking out over warm blue tropical waters and watch out for falling coconuts, I thought I’d go back and share some of my previous adventures and photos, which I always meant to obsessively document at the time.

The next post I’ll work on will be about Roi-Namur, an island on the north side of Kwajalein Atoll, which I’ve visited twice and wish I had the time to see again.

Categories: Kwajalein, Marshall Islands, Ramblings | Leave a comment

Blog at