UPDATE (May 6, 2007): We have moved back to the States and as such, are no longer fielding questions about the island. To the best of my knowledge, answers to the FAQs were accurate as of late March 2007.
Below is a list of questions I'm frequently
asked about life on Kwajalein. Keep in mind that the answers
are based upon my own experiences and are rather subjective
Now for some legalese: Though McGrath Images does its best to
verify the accuracy of this information, McGrath Images takes
no responsibility for inaccuracies found within. Please note
that I am in no way affiliated with KRS (Kwajalein Range Services),
the major on-island contractor. For questions involving job-
or contractor-specific information (i.e., "How much weight
am I allowed to ship on the barge?", "How's the pay
out there?", etc.), contact the company directly or better
yet, your on-island sponsor.
Last updated: May 14, 2008
Q: Are there
any golf courses on Kwajalein?
: I stopped golfing regularly
about 10 years ago and have never played the courses out here.
Kwajalein Island has a 9-hole course with Roi-Namur (the northern-most
island in the atoll; a 40-minute free flight from Kwaj Island)
having another 9-hole course (what people jokingly call the
"back 9"). Both courses are completely open to the
public and I don't believe you need to join any club to play
them. They're managed by a few American civilian contractors
with hired Marshallese as the groundskeepers. The greens are
watered regularly with sprinklers and the grass is well maintained.
I wouldn't call the courses Masters-quality, but do feel that
they match typical state-side municipal courses.
I've heard that there are a limited number of clubs for rent
on Kwaj (not sure about Roi). The VAST
majority of residents
ship their clubs and carriers when they move here. The small
sporting and house goods store (Macy's West) on Kwaj does sell
a few clubs (perhaps a dozen different ones), carriers, towels,
and about 6 different types of balls, though the stock and selection
varies wildly. I imagine most avid golfers stock-up in the states
while on vacation and ship everything back to Kwaj. I'm sure
there are also on-line retailers that will ship to us (they
must use the USPS, not UPS or FedEx).
there any good sources on the internet for Kwajalein
Why yes, there is. Funny you should ask this question, since
I recently spent two months redesigning the RTS
Weather Station's web site
This site includes a lot of information, including near real-time
radar, satellite, forecasts, and observations. Detailed
information about our products and the systems that produce
them, along with archived information and links to other interesting
sites are also provided.
Q: What shipping
options do I have for getting my belongings to the island? What
items should I ship?
: As unaccompanied personnel,
the company my fiancée and I work for allowed us each
to ship 200 lbs. via the USPS (sorry, no FedEx or UPS service
here!). Priority-labeled parcels typically take 12 to 14 days
to reach Kwaj from the US mainland. Parcel post, though cheaper
than Priority, typically takes an extra week or so.
Any items you can’t live without for 30 to 60 days should
be shipped via the USPS. Better yet, send them two weeks before
you leave the mainland and they’ll be here waiting for
you. I’d suggest sending items such as an alarm clock,
coffee pot, a selection of clothes, some linens, etc. We live
in the Bachelor Quarters (BQs) and were provided with towels,
sheets, and pillows, which we returned once our own supplies
arrived. I understand those living in the trailers and houses
are also provided with pots and dishware, though I can’t
addition, we were each allowed to ship 1,200 lbs. via barge.
For us, this was comprised of large items such as wardrobes,
books, computers, TVs, etc. Keep in mind that the barge, which
departs from California, takes about 30 days to reach Kwaj.
The moving company came and boxed all our items up but unfortunately
reached the docks two days after the barge left. Thus, it took
almost two months for the items to arrive on island. Talk about
Christmas in July!
We did a pretty decent job deciding what to bring with us and
what to put into storage. A couple of regrets include photo
albums and musical instruments placed into storage, which we
would’ve liked to have had on island.
types of stores are on the island?
Surfway is the island grocery store, where you can find a selection
of produce, meats, canned goods, and frozen foods. Produce is
periodically flown in and is usually pretty fresh. Selection
can get scarce when the produce plane is delayed, sometimes
for a week or two. These delays also effect any fresh or refrigerated
Ten-Ten is a convenience and liquor store. Though smaller than
Surfway, they sell many of the same items. In addition, they
have a wider variety of toiletry and personal items. They have
a decent selection of wine, beer, and hard liquor. Their beer
prices are rather high (about $8 for a six-pack), but the liquor
prices are very, very low.
Macy's (no relation to the REAL Macy's) is a small department
store. They sell clothing and shoes for men, women, and children,
as well as electronics (DVD players, VCRs, radios, and TVs),
collectibles, and toys.
Macy's West is part hardware, part sporting goods, and part
house ware store. You can find a selection of golf, tennis,
racquetball, baseball, basketball, and snorkel equipment. Also
available are beach chairs, coolers, propane grills, bikes,
and fishing supplies. The house ware portion stocks dishes,
silverware, cooking supplies, Tupperware (sometimes), mattresses,
microwaves, toaster ovens, coffee makers, sheets, pillows, vacuums,
hairdryers, electric razors, etc.
There's a beauty salon/barber shop that sells men's and women's
hair care products (shampoo, conditioner, gel, mousse, etc.).
Next door is a Continental Air Micronesia travel agency. Tape
Escape is the island video rental store, offering movies on
DVD and VHS.
Even with all this selection (said somewhat sarcastically),
you'll find yourself frequently purchasing from Amazon.com
Be forewarned that most online retailers refuse to ship electronic
items to APO (Army Post Office) addresses. APO-friendly electronic
retailers include Crutchfield
, and B&H
Photo and Video
. Sorry, Best Buy, Circuit City, CompUSA,
and even Amazon will NOT ship anything even slightly related
to electronic items to Kwaj (including printer cartridges and
Q: What is
the unit of currency? What about banking services?
: The Marshall Islands use
the US dollar. The stores on Kwaj accept cash, credit cards,
and checks. The Community Bank, a division of Bank of America,
recently replaced The Bank of Guam as the provider of Kwajalein’s
banking services. In addition to providing faster credit card
transactions, The Community Bank has installed ATMs in their
branch, Ten-Ten (the convenience and liquor store) and the Kwaj
Lodge (the small hotel). You can reach the branch at 805-355-2177.
The stores allow you to write checks up to $50 over the purchase
amount, though Macy's will cash checks up to $250. This is how
I get my cash. As most people, I still have my savings and checking
accounts with a bank in the states, with paychecks electronically
deposited into my checking account. When I have a check written
out to me, I send it in the mail to my bank with a deposit slip.
The best thing about being here is how much money you can actually
save. We pay no state or federal tax. Ching! We do pay FICA,
Medicare, and a 5% Marshallese tax…for a total tax rate
of only about 13%.
What is there to do for recreation?
: You’ll survive better
here if you like doing things outdoors. Then again, if you’re
the type of person who just stays inside all the time, being
in the middle of nowhere isn’t a big deal! Here’s
a short list of things to do on the island:
- 9-hole golf course, where you can rent clubs at the pro shop
- Snorkeling, which is quite incredible. Though Macy's West
sells snorkel gear, the selection (as with most items on the
island) can get rather slim at times. I'd suggest picking up
a nice mask, snorkel, fins, and booties before coming out to
- Free movies are shown four nights a week at the open-air public
theater and the semi-enclosed “adult” theater (where
they show the rated-R movies).
- 8-lane bowling alley (no pro shop though)
- A SCUBA diving club (the second most active in the world).
A number of instructors offer certification classes at an average
price of $230. In addition, some sell SCUBA equipment at discounted
prices. Many consider the diving here to be unrivalled ...definitely
something you should take advantage of! Check out http://www.kwajaleinscubaclub.com/
- Boat rental at the Small Boat Marina
- Catch some rays at one of three sandy beaches on the lagoon
side of the island
- At low tide, you can walk along the exposed choral (called
"reefing"), looking at all the sea life in the tidal
- There are a couple of racquetball and tennis courts, with
free gear available
- Go for a bike ride. The island circumference is about 7 miles.
Note that any bike you own out here will begin to rust within
just a few weeks. The salt spray in the air is corrosive.
- Woodworking/craft/hobby shop
- A community concert band
- Rent sea kayaks.
- Take a free flight up to Roi-Namur, the northern-most island
in the atoll.
- We have a nice Adult Recreation Center, which offers free
billiards, use of computers with internet connectivity, a music
practice room, board games, big screen TV with VCR and DVD,
and even a kitchen.
- Join a sports team (softball, basketball, bowling, water polo,
Q: What do
people do for food?
Accompanied personnel are on their own. All their food is purchased
from Surfway or Ten-Ten. The big plus to being unaccompanied
personnel is that you get a meal card (free food). The cafeteria
(Café Pacific, also known as the PDR) serves three meals
a day. Though the selection gets old at times, they do their
best and always have a great salad and fruit bar. For lunch
and dinners include three main dishes (usually fish, chicken,
and "other"), hot dogs, hamburgers, "freedom
fries", white rice, potatoes, a lunch meat (ham, turkey,
roast beef) sandwich bar, ice cream machine, and assorted slices
of cake and pie. There’s also a small food court that
serves hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, pizza, etc. My suggestion:
get your fill of McDonalds and Burger King before you move!
Is internet access available?
: The public dial-up network
is managed by KRS IT and is a free service available for everyone
on the island. Users typically connect at 54 kbps with transfer
rates around 5 kbps. At this speed, a 1 MB file will take around
3 to 4 minutes to download. As a big fan of braodband (who isn't?),
it took me a while to get used to the slower transfer speeds.
On a positive note, most
organizations have office LAN
connections with speeds similar to DSL and cable modems.
The public internet currently supports 161 concurrent dial-in
connections. Rarely do users get busy signals when dialing into
the modem pool.
The public network is connected to a proxy server that uses
the application Smartfilter to restrict access to web sites
containing malicious, drug, criminal, hate speech, or pornographic
content. The database of sites is a subscription service from
Secure Computing Corporation and the categorization is controlled
by them. Suggestions for changing a sites definition can be
submitted through their web site and reviewed.
The proxy server also blocks P2P file-sharing clients like Kazaa
and BearShare, but not legal, pay-per-download music clients
such as iTunes. P2P protocols are blocked or ranked by a bandwidth
policy controlled outside of the Smartfilter. Since KRS IT uses
private address space inside their network, it would be difficult
and ill advised to allow systems from the outside of their network
in. That is why P2P programs do not work.
about cable or satellite TV?
: Nope, cable TV is not
available on Kwaj. The TV service we do have is provided by
AFN, the US Armed Forces Network. We currently have a whopping
eight channels, all delivered over-the-air. This means you get
to dig-out the rabbit ears antenna that has been collecting
dust in the attic. Reception varies widely and depends on whether
the antenna has a clear line-of-site with the broadcast tower
and what type of dwelling you live in (metal trailers seem to
block much of the signal). Macy's West stocks a variety of antennas
and bulk coax.
The BQs have communal roof-top antennas, which have been recently
upgraded (as well as the signal pre-amp distribution boxes).
Each room has a single wall plate coax socket that feeds off
the antenna. Reception is decent and usually rivals that delivered
from set-top antennas.
Saying that we have eight TV channels is a bit deceiving. Yes,
we have eight discrete channels, but two are tied-up by a weather
radar channel and a community information bulletin board. The
remaining six channels, the formats of which can change throughout
the day, deliver a plethora a US programming, such as sitcoms
and dramas (The Simpson's, Survivor, Boston Legal, etc.), news
shows (GMA, Headline News, CNN, Bill O’Reilly, etc.),
and sports (ESPN News, games, etc.).
Current USAKA regulations prohibit the use of private satellite
dishes. At some time in the past, the residents of Roi-Namur
banded together to acquire a communal USAKA-approved satellite
dish. The resultant service delivers an additional five or six
channels to the "Roi Rats", including a movie channel
and the Australian Discovery Channel.
To break it down for you, here are the Kwaj TV stations:
- Channel 9: Kwaj Community Information Bulletin Board (roller)
- Channel 13: Kwaj Weather (proudly provided by 3D Research)
- Channel 14: AFN News
- Channel 17: AFN Prime
- Channel 20: AFN Spectrum
- Channel 23: AFN Movies
- Channel 26: AFN Family
- Channel 29: AFN Sports
to see what programs are currently being shown on these channels.
Q: I'm interested
in bringing my boat out to Kwaj. Who can I get a hold of to
help me out with this?
: You'll need get USAKA's
approval to bring your boat out here. The Kwajalein Yacht Club
should be able to help you out.
Q: If I move
to Kwaj, can I bring my dog or cat?
: I don't have a pet on
Kwaj (other than the annoying coconut crab living under my trailer),
so I’d suggest giving the Kwaj Veterinary Services a call
at 805-355-2017. I've spoken to a few friends with on-island
pets, and the following is a list of issues they feel you should
be aware of:
1 - There is a limit to the number of pets USAKA allows on the
island at one time. You'll definitely need to coordinate with
your sponsor to request permission to bring your pet with you.
I'm sure there's a slew of paperwork that will need to be filled-out
(hey, it's the government folks, what did you expect?).
2 - The hot and humid tropical environment can be very taxing
on large and furry dogs. It's not uncommon for people to bring
large dogs out here who subsequently develop health problems,
especially with their hearts. Ask yourself if you really want
to put your pet through that.
3 - There is some sort of mandatory quarantine while flying
through Honolulu. I've been told by on-island pet owners that
if you stay in Honolulu less than 48 hours on the way out, your
pet would be kept in quarantine at a kennel at customs. If it’s
more than 48 hours…I’m not sure. Vet Services or
Honolulu Customs should be able to explain further.
Q: What will
my mailing address look like?
A: Your sponsor will submit the appropriate
paperwork to have a Post Office Box assigned so that you may
begin shipping items before you PCS. Your address will look
something like this:
John Quincy Adams
P.O. Box ####
US Army Kwajalein Atoll (optional)
APO, AP 96555
APO = Army Post Office
AP = Armed Forces Pacific
Is there an on-island newspaper?
heard about the dangers of sharks and pollution in the waters
of Kwajalein. Is there really much danger there?
A: We asked a lot about the sharks before
learning to dive and quickly learned that there’s nothing
to worry about. Supposedly, there’s only been a single
shark attack incident since WWII and that was caused by a
diver who felt it necessary to repeatedly poke a shark in
the eye with a stick. I think I’d defend myself if I
was the shark too! We’ve seen many sharks, both snorkeling
and diving, and other than making a few passes to check you
out, they don’t seem to care about you. As for the pollution,
I’ve never heard of this being a problem. I have heard
that the Marshallese on Ebeye often throw their trash in the
water and raw sewage occasionally seeps out of their sewage
system. If this is true, I’ve yet to experience anything
like the pollution in the Great Lakes (from where I hail).
If you're a water person, you will truly find Kwajalein to
be heaven on earth.
What's the difference between "unaccompanied" and
"accompanied"? Does that mean either married or single?
A: Accompanied personnel are those with
dependents who live with them on Kwajalein. For example, I
know a guy here whose family lives in Hawaii. Since they don’t
live here, he is considered to be unaccompanied. Families
live in trailers or more likely hard houses with two to three
January 8, 2007