The answers to the following questions come from my personal experiences and feelings after six years on Kwajalein. This information was current as of November, 2004. I no longer live on Kwajalein.
What's it like to live there?
This is the most difficult question to answer. Of course, living here means different things to different people. Some find it a paradise, while others begin counting the days to departure almost as soon as their feet hit the ground.
If you're into outdoor and athletic activities, especially where water is involved, Kwajalein has something to offer. Homebodies and mall rats might find the adjustment quite difficult to take or might not be able to adjust at all.
Kwajalein is very much like a small US town, with one extremely important difference. You can't just run to the big city for things you need or want - it's a long flight and rather expensive! A large number of web sites paint Kwajalein in a utopian light. DO NOT BE FOOLED! In the most simple terms, Kwajalein is an American town with American town problems.
A lot of the mis-information out there, like "no crime", comes from mostly well-intentioned people making observations after visiting Kwajalein for short-term projects. It's a lot like going on vacation and absolutely falling in love with the destination. You're usually not there long enough to feel the impact of the downside. Other mis-information on the internet comes from people who have a political statement to make about the United States and see our very complex relationship with the Marshall Islands as an easy target.
What's there to do on Kwajalein?
Outdoor activities and water sports are plentiful.
fishing (including deep sea)
swimming (lagoon and two salt-water pools)
boating (sail and power boats for rent, or bring your own)
golf (Kwajalein and Roi-Namur)
basketball (indoor and outdoor)
racquetball (indoor and outdoor)
radio-controlled aircraft (bring your own!)
kite flying (high and gusty winds make this a challenge)
There are a lot of clubs and groups participating in various other activities - too many to list here.
Do you have movies there?
Yes. Movies are shown at two locations on Kwajalein and one on Roi-Namur.
The Richardson Theater is open-air (bring a rain coat!) and the oldest structure still in use on Kwajalein. It features digital projection and surround sound. However, picture quality falls short of US standards. Movies are shown on Saturday, Sunday and Monday evenings.
The smaller Yokwe Yuk Theater is covered and shows R-rated movies on weekend evenings.
The Tradewinds Theater on Roi-Namur is covered and is used for DOD shows and community activities. Movies are now shown at C building.
How can I get a job there?
Visit the LINKS area of this site, where you'll find a list of employers. Where possible, a link to their site is included. Because most companies hire from stateside offices, there's not usually an island contact for positions.
Can spouses find employment?
The government and private contractors hire spouses of employees to fill "dependant-hire" positions, which aren't available to "off-island" applicants. These positions don't include benefits or housing.
Is it true you pay no taxes?
No. This is another myth promoted by the uninformed who have obviously never lived here.
The tax we pay depends on who we work for. If we work for the US government, we're subject to US federal income tax withholding. Employees of non-government contractors are subject to a 5% Marshall Islands tax, retirement and medicare but not US income tax. Whether or not a person pays state tax depends on the desire to maintain residency status in a particular state. It's not possible to cover all the tax scenarios but we do pay income tax.
Is there a church there?
The island Memorial Chapel provides services for several denominations. Some Kwajalein residents attend services on Ebeye, which is 20 minutes north by an Army-operated ferry.
Island Memorial Chapel
Can I bring family pets?
Advance written permission is required to bring a pet to Kwajalein. It is extremely important to check with your potential employer and/or the vet tech as early as possible before planning a move to Kwajalein. There is a lot of activity associated with moving a pet here and plans must be made as early as possible in order to avoid a real problem. Airline regulations governing animal transportation are necessary for the animal's safety but can be very frustrating for us humans, so be prepared and be patient! Fortunately, there is no quarantine requirement when pets travel through Honolulu.
At last report, the pet population on Kwajalein was capped at 100 dogs and 260 cats. (The command has chosen to no longer provide current numbers for this site.) Unfortunately, the number of stray cats is increasing and they are frequently found to suffer from the incurable feline immuno-deficiency virus (FIV). Irresponsible cat owners on Kwajalein who let their cats roam free contribute to the spread of FIV. The impact of this on any decision to raise the caps is unknown at this time. With few exceptions and subject to quotas, there is a limit of one pet per family housing unit. Potential BQ residents should check with their employer and/or the vet tech.
Our vet tech provides routine and emergency service for animals and a veterinarian visits the island periodically. A "microchipping" program is now in operation, which allows for immediate identification of pets when necessary. Animal health and safety regulations are stringent and governed by the Army.
What are the schools like?
KAPS provides preschool education for young children Ö who are beyond the diaper stage!
The elementary and junior/senior high schools are very small compared to US schools. As an example: there are less than 200 students in grades seven through 12, combined. Class sizes range from just a handful of students in elective classes, to around 24 in core classes - well below the US numbers.
Due to the size of the school system, the core cirriculum is emphasized. Electives are available but not the extent you would expect to find in a larger US high school.
School sports are limited to soccer and other community-related activities. The teams compete on an intramural basis and with Marshallese teams from Ebeye and Gugeegue schools, as well as adult teams from the Kwajalein community. Occasionally, teams will travel off-island to compete.
The University of Maryland, University College provides post-secondary education on a limited basis, offering a few classes at a time right here on Kwajalein.
For students looking to attend college after high school, the University of Hawai'i will normally allow residents of the Marshall Islands to attend for the much lower in-state tuition rates.
Students with special educational requirements must be evaluated to determine if the local school system is capable of meeting their needs. The school administration should be contacted directly before seeking employment.
What is housing like?
All housing is owned by the US Army. Since the entire island is a US military installation, and the Marshall Islands prohibits foreign ownership of property, there is no choice but to live in assigned military housing.
Housing assignment is made by the employer and based on contract and family size. Some will be granted family status while others are assigned to bachelor quarters (BQ) on an unaccompanied tour. Only your employer can make that determination.
Housing ranges in size from single rooms to three bedroom houses. Depending on the employment contract, assignment will be made to BQs (bachelor quarters), trailers, older concrete block houses, newer wooden houses, townhouses or dome homes.
Bathrooms range from shared in some rooms and trailers to three separate baths in the largest houses. Appliance availability varies widely with housing type but all housing is air conditioned. All utilities are provided at no charge, except for telephone service.
In order to keep costs down, conservation of resources is always requested by the Army. Water conservation can be a serious issue during extended periods with little rainfall.
"Old housing" duplex.
Is internet service available?
An island server is usually available 24 hours a day. It's a dial-up proxy server with a firewall and filters in place. There is no public support, just take it or leave it. A lot of people have an off-island service provider, such as Earthlink or TCSN as a backup. Recent changes to phone lines seem to have considerably slowed off-island connections.
Off island service can be very expensive. Service providers with an area code 805 access number, specifically in Paso Robles, CA, can be used without incurring long distance charges but a seven cents per minute charge will apply. Off-island phone line quality limits data transmission to very low speeds, commonly around 14.4kbps.
Be careful if you decide to keep your AOL or Worldnet, etc, account. Their 800 numbers usually cost quite a bit to use and that first months phone bill can be quite a shock. Believe me, I found out the hard way!
A project is in the works to provide high-speed service.
What's the weather like?
Tropical - hot and humid. There is very little change in temperature or humidity throughout the year. Except during rain showers, you can expect a high around 87F/30C and a low around 80F/26C with very high humidity. Rain can occur on almost any day.
The average wind speed is around 14mph. Trade winds can remain sustained in excess of 25 miles per hour at times. On hot and humid days, the wind can make the difference between comfortable and miserable. No wind on a hot humid tropical day isn't much fun.
Less than 600 miles from the equator, the sun is extremely intense and especially dangerous if you don't protect yourself. Residents may be exposed to higher rates of sun-related skin problems, including infection, severe sunburn and cancer. Despite this, the already-leathery-skinned sun bunnies and bums still flock to the pools and beaches daily to lounge in the mid-day sun.
Typhoon season runs from November through mid-January. However, they can and do occur any time of the year, and have also been known to move in the "wrong" direction. Direct hits on Kwajalein are rare. A more common scenario is the formation of a tropical storm near the Marshall Islands and movement to the west toward Guam. With an average elevation of only six feet above sea level, the impact of a typhoon could be catastrophic at high tide.
Tsunami's are very, very rare. Although any low-lying area might be subject to some degree of damage from a tsunami, the ocean "wall" (steep slope) below the surface surrounding Kwajalein would likely help to mitigate the impact of a tsunami.
Are vehicles allowed on Kwajalein?
The Army operates a large fleet of vehicles for official use. There are a few available for rental but no privately owned vehicles are allowed. Rain or shine, the bike is king here! Consider it a mandatory exercise program.
What about privately owned boats?
This is a little more complicated. Yes, you can bring your own boat but boathouses and dry dock space are extremely limited and sometimes not available at all. I've had people tell me boat maintenance is very demanding and time consuming here. Some have regretted bringing their boats.
What about airplanes?
Privately owned aircraft are not allowed at this time. Contact your sponsor if you want to bring one to Kwajalein.
First of all, there's no avgas within 240 miles of Kwajalein. It would have to run on mogas, diesel or jet fuel. Second, the airspace is full of high frequency radiation hazards. Finally, aircraft operations might interfere with mission requirements.
If it can all be worked out, you might be able to convince the Commander to allow you to give it a try. However, with no hangar space available, the marine environment might turn out to be an extremely expensive maintenance proposition.
If someone were able to get a plane out here, there would be no shortage of potential renters. Back in the '80's, there was a flying club in operation here. The Army decision to move to turbine-powered aircraft resulted in the elimination of the club when the avgas ran out.
What are the Marshallese like?
That's a difficult question to answer. Just like Americans, it depends on the person. The Marshallese do seem to be a lot more relaxed, peaceful and accommodating than most Americans are. I have met no unfriendly Marshallese people but as in any society, there probably are some.
Is there crime on Kwajalein.
This is a subject with much disagreement. Yes, crime does occur but details aren't always widely discussed or publicized. A 1998 report to the State Department indicated a higher crime rate than in similar-sized US towns. However, it's important to note the community is contained in an extremely small space, with no larger cities nearby.
Illegal activity is dealt with in a different manner than in the US. Serious crime will likely result in immediate removal from the island. You probably won't even be packing your own stuff. Civilian or not, you're in the Army now!
Can you swim in the ocean?
No. Swimming is only allowed in the two saltwater swimming pools and in the lagoon at two public beaches.
Are you sure you want to swim in the ocean? (provided by Gloria Beery)
Are there stores on Kwajalein?
Yes, but selection is very limited, which can be very frustrating at times. We have a grocery store (Surfway) and two general merchandise stores (Macy's and Macy's West) carrying different items. There's also a convenience-type store (Ten-Ten) and video rentals (Tape Escape).
We also have ...
a snack bar
an unaccompanied dining facility
laundry and dry cleaning facilities
a travel agency
a barber shop and beauty salon
a private veterans hall
There's also a club at the golf course Ö no pun intended.
Prices for goods and services vary widely. They seem to be in line with those in Honolulu, sometimes more, sometimes less.
The internet has become an excellent source for things we can't get here. Most items of reasonable size can be shipped from the US in about ten days. On the downside, the cost of shipping drives the price up.
Fine dining isn't limited to restaurants.
Are FedEx and UPS available?
The fastest way to ship is US Priority Mail. There is no Express Mail, FedEx or UPS service readily available. FedEx does ship to Ebeye but international rates apply and they are very expensive. DHL will ship to Kwajalein but the point of contact is in Majuro, about 240 miles away, and I've been told the rates are very high, as with any international shipment. US mail service is provided at domestic rates.
Are there sharks or other dangerous creatures?
Yes, as any diver will attest to. However, they usually avoid people. One of our controllers was nipped by a shark but it was in the waters of Taongi, an uninhabited atoll where the sharks aren't accustomed to seeing people.
We do have problems with jellyfish on occasion. They're always here but infestations sometimes occur, which result in warnings and beach closings.
What about bugs, spiders and other pests?
No giant furry spiders in the houses here - only tiny spindly spider-ettes waiting for even tinier ants to wander into their webs. There are a few larger outdoor spiders but they generally aren't too big and look meaner than they really are. We protect our geckos! One or more geckos in the house is the best pest control you could ever have.
Mosquitoes are plentiful but usually controlled in most areas. Unfortunately, flies are over-abundant.
Mice,rats and cockroaches are here, just like everywhere. Pest Control seems to do a good job keeping them under control in the housing areas.
Simply put Ö no snakes. However, the Army has increased public awareness of the brown tree snake, which has caused serious problems on Guam.
The best pest control anywhere!
Do you have satellite TV?
Television is provided by Central Pacific Network (CPN), the American Forces Network - Kwajalein, a service of the American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS).
Local television operates 24/7.
9 - popular programming from the US networks (delayed)
13 - a mix of news and sports
14 - news
17 - sports
20 - local information / music
23 - movies and popular programming from the US
26 - similar to channel 9 (without the delay)
29 - weather radar and information / audio programs
32 - flight operations / music
35 - generally the same programs as channel 9 (without the delay)
The same organization provides four radio stations, also operating 24 hours per day. Radio includes some local programming.
Direct-to-home satellite service, such as DirecTV is not yet available in the mid-Pacific.
Reception depends on location. Some have excellent reception while others can't receive all the channels. Television has been and continues to be a hot-button issue. This is supposed to be an objective web site so I'll stop here.
Does Kwajalein have full medical and dental services?
The Kwajalein Hospital is equipped to provide routine and emergency medical care. More serious cases are referred to specializing physicians and facilities in Honolulu. If you have unusual health concerns, you probably shouldn't move here.
Physicians specializing in women's health are not available on Kwajalein. If care is urgently needed, the patient is referred to Honolulu.
There is no optometrist on island but one does visit from time to time. Bringing spare glasses or contact lenses is highly recommended.
The island has a full-service dental clinic and an orthodontist visits the island at regular intervals.
What about travel to other islands?
Some other islands in the atoll, most uninhabited, can be visited with written permission from the Republic of the Marshall Islands (generally a formality but still necessary). Other atolls can be also be visited. Air Marshall Islands flies to several atolls from Kwajalein. However, tourist accommodations are rarely available.
Honolulu is 5-7 hours away, depending on the flight you take. Frequency of paid transportation between Honolulu and Kwajalein for vacations depends on an employee's contract.
Living here offers opportunities to travel to destinations which might otherwise be too expensive. The north-pacific islands are all easily accessible, including Chuuk (Truk), a world-class diving destination. Bikini Atoll is a relatively short non-stop flight from Kwajalein, and offers the opportunity to dive the "nuclear" fleet.
Although relatively close, there are no direct flights to Australia or New Zealand, both popular destinations. Travel through Honolulu or Guam is required.
Can someone visit Kwajalein?
Travel to Kwajalein is restricted to official business only. The only exceptions occur when residents sponsor family members or friends, etc. Visitors are limited to staying no more than 60 days in a calendar year and a background check is required prior to approval for the visit.
In addition to official entry/exit documents, granted after a background investigation, a picture ID and original birth certificate are required for entry. However, a US passport is very highly recommended as a wise alternative to the birth certificate by the airlines, the Army and the US INS.
The round-trip airfare between Honolulu and Kwajalein usually runs around $1,000 for non-residents. Continental Micronesia provides one-stop service, three times per week. Aloha provides two-stop service twice per week and non-stop service might be back by the end of 2003.
What should I bring with me if I move there?
If you can't live without it ... bring it! Most things that people need are 'usually' available in the stores here. If not, just about anything can be purchased over the internet and received within a couple of weeks, sometimes less. Clothes and specialty items should be brought with you. Clothes and shoes are available here of course but style and size are very limited. In the past, we have run out of things like toothpaste, deodorant, shaving cream, various shoe sizes, and ... underwear. Be prepared!
Residents line the pier to welcome a ship rumored to be carrying toothpaste.
( Don't cancel your reservations ... it's a joke! )
Is Space-A travel available?
Yes, but as with all travel to/from Kwajalein, pre-approval is required, whether the traveler is a visitor or resident. Three scheduled AMC flights operate in each direction between Honolulu and Kwajalein every week, except during the Christmas/New Year holiday season, when flights are less frequent. Unscheduled AMC flights are infrequent and no scheduled service exists between Guam and Kwajalein.
Space-A travelers should be familiar with this: due to changing mission requirements, travelers should be prepared to make alternate travel arrangements. From my experience, changing mission requirements can also mean mechanical difficulties. The last number I read was a 66% reliability rating for AMC aircraft when traveling to/from Kwajalein. Honolulu is an expensive city in which to take a flight delay. Be prepared!
How does the mail work on Kwajalein?
Mail service is provided by a contractor-operated US Army Post Office (APO). Rates are the same as domestic mail in the United States. There are no Express Mail, UPS or domestic FedEx services available on Kwajalein. US Priority Mail is the fastest service we have.
Size and weight limitations apply to items shipped to Kwajalein. Packages can be no more that 100" in length and girth combined or weigh more than 70 pounds. Packages larger than a letter require a US customs form, declaring the contents. Insurance is very highly recommended. Any US Post Office can provide more details.
I have received mail from the US in as few as four days but it's a good idea to allow two weeks (or more) for everything up to small packages, longer for larger boxes. Before it arrives on Kwajalein and after it leaves, anything can happen. Insure it!!!
Some companies won't ship to PO Boxes, even though they use US mail for delivery. There are ways around that, such as using "Unit" in lieu of "Box". The mail still goes to the PO box since we don't have home delivery.
How does phone service work?
All housing units have direct, private telephone lines with an 805 area code phone number (Paso Robles CA). A second phone line is not available to the general public Ö yet. Local calls are included in a $25 monthly service charge. Some calls to area code 805 (CA) are considered local calls but incur a seven cents per minute charge through the National Telephone Agency of the Marshall Islands (NTAMAR).
Long distance service is provided by whatever company the Army can get the best rate from. Long distance calling cards are an option but you'll still pay the seven cents per minute charge even if it's a "toll-free" number. There is no such thing as a "toll-free" call unless you're calling a number on a US-controlled island in Kwajalein Atoll. For what it's worth, calls to our neighbor island of Ebeye, three miles away, are charged the international rate.
Is the marine environment a problem?
Yes. Bicycles, our primary mode of transportation, will begin to rust in just a few days, especially if not cared for properly. If you still have the same bike after three years, you've either taken very good care of it or are very lucky.
Telescopes, grills, outdoor furniture, even some clothes will succumb to the rust in time. Some items kept inside all the time are affected by rust because of the high humidity. Dehumidifiers can help but the effort will most likely prove futile in the end.
Kwajalein is in one of the most corrosive environments in the world. Keep that in mind when trying to decide whether or not to bring that 24-speed bicycle. After "Kwaj condition", bikes end up at Bicycle Heaven.
Where Kwaj bikes go in the end.
I read that Kwajalein is a summer camp environment where every need and desire of the workers is catered to.
I read that one too. Of course it's not true. Like anywhere, people work and people play. The tropical environment just makes it look like a wonderful playground, with work merely an afterthought. Rest assured, the business of the missile range is extremely serious.
There are a lot of comparisons made between Kwajalein and Ebeye, a Marshallese community three miles north of us, saying things like Kwajalein residents live in a country-club atmosphere while those on Ebeye live in squalor. The living (and playing) conditions on Kwajalein are similar to a small American town, while Ebeye is extremely poor and overcrowded. The relationship between the two countries is a lot more complex than a one or two-time visitor, turned expert, can even begin to understand.
Can you shop on other islands?
There are stores on Ebeye, about a 20 minute ferry ride or five minutes by water taxi. They're smaller than the stores on Kwajalein and usually a lot more expensive. Just like on Kwajalein, check the expiration dates before buying. There are a lot of tiny, one-room stores on Ebeye, some no bigger than a large closet.
One thing they do have is an Ace Hardware. A lot of people make the short trip over just to go to Ace. Their selection is much larger than on Kwajalein.
Dining on Ebeye requires some common sense. Although much-needed improvements to their public water supply are in the works, it's very wise to order a bottled drink Ö with no ice! More than a few people have come down with stomach problems after a trip to Ebeye.
People on Kwajalein can usually suggest where, and where not to eat and shop.
Is there a drug problem on Kwajalein?
All luggage is inspected on arrival and before departure. Even though there's a zero-tolerance policy in place, and despite all efforts, there will always be people willing to try to bring something in. These brilliant individuals might be an example of someone who is escorted off the island and not even allowed to pack up their own things.
Because of our location, someone committing such an offense risks legal action from the US Army, the State of Hawai'i, the United States and the Republic of the Marshall Islands. I'm told there's nothing quite like confinement in jail on Ebeye or Majuro - bring your own food and water!
What about alcohol?
Alcohol can be purchased on Kwajalein without restriction, by those 21 and over. As with any place, those under 21 and determined will find a way. The police and command are taking steps to reduce the problem but it'll never be completely eliminated.
Alcoholism among Marshallese and American adults is a problem. AA meets on a regular basis on both Kwajalein and Roi-Namur.
Can computer supplies be purchased on Kwajalein?
Very, very few computer accessories or supplies are available in our retail store. Although it's improving, a lot of companies still won't ship electronics and software to overseas locations, including APO addresses. They either don't have an export license or you've asked for something for which the US government prohibits shipment. I won't suggest obvious ways around this one.
What if I get there and can't stand Kwajalein?
That does happen. People really have left in 24 hours, never even giving the place a chance. Whether or not your immediate return will be paid for depends on your contract and employer. Government employees must satisfy certain minimum requirements. Those seeking employment with a private contractor would have to ask their potential employer.
Are family members, other than children, able to move there?
First, are they your legal dependant? Second, ask your employer.
Keep in mind that any unusual health and health care issues will usually preclude someone from living here. The medical facility is not capable of specialized care, nor will they pay for off-island travel for routine medical reasons, especially those known in advance.
Is it safe to eat fish caught around Kwajalein?
Fish caught in the lagoon are not considered safe to eat. They are known to carry contaminants, which can be hazardous to humans. However, those from the ocean are generally considered safe. The waters of the Marshall Islands are excellent for catching tuna.
Once remaining food safety concernes are resolved, fresh fish will be available on Kwajalein from the fish market on Ebeye.
Is driverís education available?
No. If youíre planning a move to Kwajalein with a teenager, get it out of the way in the US if at all possible (the license, not the teenager!). There are jobs on the island that require a government driverís license. A license from a US state or territory is required in order to be issued a government license. This applies to everyone, not just teenage drivers.
Is cell phone service available?
Only if youíre willing to shell out big bucks! The phone company on Ebeye, which is three miles north of Kwajalein, offers service for $50 per month plus a one-time $30 set-up charge. There is no charge for airtime but a call from Kwajalein to Kwajalein or the US is an international call because it goes through the RMI phone system.
Can you download music?
Yes but the current on-island internet service is dial-up, with an operating speed that usually ranges from about 33 to 50kbps. A project to provide better service is in the works.
Can you have Family Radio Service (FRS) radios and CBs?
They are legal in the Marshall Islands. Range seems somewhat limited, especially from ďnew housingĒ, which has steel-frame construction.
Is it possible to get a post office box in advance of arrival?
Yes. Your sponsor or hiring agency should be able to take care of it for you.
Are there things for little kids to do?
Yes. Itís the same as any small town in the US. We have playgrounds and plenty of room for kids to do what kids do. There are also special programs for kids, which operate during times of the year when school is not in session.
Are Asian groceries available?
Yes. The selection is actually pretty good for such a small community.
How big are the yards?
Family housing yard sizes generally range from almost non-existent to fairly small, depending on the housing unit to which youíre assigned. Donít count on the yard accommodating a swing set, etc.
Are emergency services available?
Yes. Fire, emergency medical, police and hospital services are staffed and available 24 hours every day. No point on the island is more than a few minutes away in an emergency. Serious medical cases are referred to Honolulu by air-ambulance when required.
Is there gas available for BBQ grills?
Yes. Tanks and gas are available. Donít try to bring your own!
What about gasoline for lawnmowers, etc?
It is available but itís best not to bring your own mower. Self Help can provide everything youíll probably need and will even deliver and pick up the mower.
Who can live there?
Only employees of the US government or contractors on official orders or under contract are allowed to live here. Some employees are authorized to have their families with them.