Adventures In Kwajalein (Part 2 of 3)
Why would a young, successful, up and coming engineer working for the Georgia Institute of Technology Research Institute uproot his family and move them to the other side of the planet? The answers can be found on the first part of the series: Adventures in Kwajalein Part 1 of 3.
Other than being a very long flight, the trip from Philadelphia to San Francisco to Honolulu to Kwajalein was mostly uneventful. That is a true statement only if your definition of uneventful includes riding from Honolulu to Kwajalein in a C-140 military plane whose primary use was to transport cargo.
The plane had been modified to carry passengers and was equipped with non-reclining, webbed seats that faced the back of the plane. The temperature inside the plane oscillated between cold and hot and to add to the differences, there were only two windows.
The 6,000 foot runway easily accomodates either the Military C-140 or the Continental Airlines Boeing 727. As they say, any flight that you can walk away from is a good one!
Kwajalein from the Southeast
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We had already studied all the descriptions and pictures available in the "Introduction to Kwajalein" pamphlet that I was given before we left New Jersey. The pictures showed the houses, grocery stores, post office, restaurants, beaches, pools, tennis courts, and a lot more but nothing could really prepare you for that moment when you stepped out of that plane. It immediately felt like you had walked into an oven. Even though it was January, it was almost 90 degrees. After we caught our breath, we met our sponsoring family at the airport. This feature of the assignment was critically important to get us oriented to island life as quickly as possible.
Since personal cars were not allowed on the 1/2 by 3 mile island, we all took a taxi to our assigned residence. This was no ordinary taxi. It was actually a Step Van converted with wooden benches running along each side of the interior with plenty of room in the middle for our 10 suitcases. We later discovered that you could phone for this taxi and it would pick you up and take you wherever you wanted to go, for free! That is how everyone got their groceries delivered. As you would expect, that service was very popular during the rainy season.
Our residence turned out to be a two-bedroom, two-bath unit in a two story concrete block duplex built in the late 1950s. One of our first tasks was to get bicycles which would serve as our primary means of transportation for the duration of our planned 3 year stay. Thankfully, our sponsors had managed to get the two window-unit air conditioners installed and working before we arrived.
Movers brought our 'sea shipment' and the unpacking was completed before nightfall. And so we became part of an 'ex-pat' community of 300 or so defense contractors working for the US Army on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands.
Emon Beach on Kwajalein Island
Fun in the Sun
After we took care of the immediate necessities, it was time to explore all the features of this new life. One of the first things to be explored were the beaches. Emon Beach (translation: Good Beach), pictured above, provided the usual sandy fun and included mild waves and several covered pavilions with tables for parties or just some shade. It was about a 5 minute bike ride from our house and it quickly became one of the kids favorite destinations. There were several other beaches at the far end of the island which were less popular due to their distance from the housing area also jokingly known as the 'suburbs'.
We soon discovered that every Saturday morning the families could be found at one of the two 50 meter salt water pools where leagues for adults through toddlers competed for fun and exercise. The kids were reluctant at first but soon got into the competitive spirit.
Fun in the Sun
Although we would eventually get involved in swimming, tennis, golf, boating, scuba diving, dinner parties, and duplicate bridge, my first sports activity on the island was running. I had started running only six months earlier after my 30th birthday. There must have been something about that particular milestone since I also terminated my ten year cigarette smoking habit. Given the new sunny, warm, healthy environment, and the fact that I was now officially over the hill, I thought it was a good idea to clean up my act.
The Kwajalein Running Club boasted over 150 members of all ages from 6 to 60. My focus soon became the 10 km (6.2 miles). There was an organized and timed event every week and we all became regulars! As it turned out, it was the start of a 30 year exercise habit for me that included two triathlons and a marathon on the island. Yes, if you run around the island 4 times, it adds up to 26.2 miles.
Running and Biking on Kwajalein
The Marshall Islands
Island Life Comes to a Close
So for three years we enjoyed the island life. Life went on everyday with the usual things: work, school, sports, shopping, boating, golfing, tennis, and vacations.
In the next segment you'll hear more about those vacations and how there came to be a second trip to the island and, of course, the answer to the question: What are over 300 engineers, scientists, and technicians from the nation's top defense contractors and academic institutions doing on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?
© 2014 John