Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Basics, Pt 1: Where?


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(Pronounced Qua-juh-lyn)

The largest atoll in the world, located in the Marshall Islands just 8 degrees north of the equator. We're 2200 miles south-west of Hawaii, 2000 miles northeast of Australia, and just on the other side of the international date line, putting us a day ahead of the continental US. It's a six-hour flight from here to anywhere of note, and this remoteness is precisely the reason why I, and the United States Army, are here.

Specifically, the bulk of us live on Kwajalein Island, the southernmost and largest island in Kwajalein Atoll. It's a spec of an island, just half a mile wide and maybe two miles long, depending on how you measure. The highest natural point on the island is barely four feet above sea level, and the highest man-made hill is collectively refered to as Mt Olympus, at a towering 20 feet.

A total of ~1600 people currently live on the island of Kwajalein, with another ~70 living and working on the island of Roi-Namur, at the northern tip of the atoll. Most of us are contractors working for the US Army; while this technically is a military base, there's less then 20 active-duty military personnel stationed here.

Aside from the remoteness, life here is very similar to any other small company town in the USA. The bulk of the workers live in small but comfortable studio apartments, while more senior personnel with families live in duplex housing. There is an elementary school and high school, which consistently rank as some of the best schools in America. We also have a small supermarket, Some stores that can be best described as a large 7-11, a small Sears, and a small Macy's, a barber shop, post office, hospital and food court.

With the exception of the military personnel, or people employed directly by the military, the vast majority of people here work for a defense contractor, providing support services. Most of us are on contracts, the average length being two years, although many people will work for multiple contracts, some "lifers" have been here for upwards of twenty years.

And why would someone want to spend twenty years of their life living on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?

That seems pretty obvious.

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