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NEWS | May 8, 2023

JTF-RH’s 'Embedded Historian' has a part in creating history

By Story by Spc. Matthew Mackintosh Joint Task Force-Red Hill

Legacy has a funny way of cementing itself, while history has a knack of repeating. A historian by trade, legislative affairs chief by demand and a mediator by nature, Rana Lynn Kennedy understands this statement all too well. The Kaua’i native finds herself in the midst of a challenging past and the hope for a promising future for everyone living on O’ahu.

“As a Department of Defense (DoD) civilian working for Joint Task Force-Red Hill (JTF-RH) and a local resident, I feel that it is my ‘kuleana’, my duty, to do the best job I can for my command and the people of Hawaiʻi to [help] resolve the Red Hill issue,” said Kennedy.

Kennedy has been an integral part of the JTF-RH team since being officially established on Sept. 30, 2022. The DoD established JTF-RH to ensure the safe and expeditious defueling of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility (RHBFSF).

Kennedy’s past experience in legislative affairs at the federal and state levels proved to be vital. Leaders from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) where she is the command historian, called upon her to be the chief of legislative affairs for JTF-RH. In addition to her professional expertise, senior leaders at USINDOPACOM recognized the importance of her ties to the local community to contribute to the mission of re-building relationships with the people of Hawaii.

“I am from here, my family is from here,” Kennedy explained. “As a resident, I understand the political, cultural, and historical nuances when it comes to Red Hill. I feel I can be a part of bridging the gap of understanding for the people of Hawaiʻi on the importance of the JTF-RH mission.”

Although she assumed the role as the chief of legislative affairs, Kennedy continues to operate with the mindset of a historian. In fact, she dubbed herself as the “embedded historian” for the organization.

“The standup of this joint task force is historic in that it is not a task force that is dealing with a combat contingency operation,” said Kennedy. “It is a three-star level task force … working to defuel the Red Hill facility.”

Kennedy further stated, “to drain the 104 million gallons of fuel and to close the facility will be a historic event that I intend to capture. I want to tell the story of Red Hill in the future. I am honored to work for the JTF and to experience the historical significance of the task force’s mission.”

As the Command Historian for USINDOPACOM, her role encompassed not only historical documentation but advising senior leaders in planning and decision-making. Military commands across the United States understand the significance of history and use those “lessons learned” as a guide to operate in the present day.

“The most satisfying part of being the USINDOPACOM Command Historian, is when my historical research and analysis help shape operational and strategic planning and decision-making,” said Kennedy. “That is when I feel my work is directly impactful to the execution of U.S. national strategy.”

Recognizing the value she brings to JTF-RH Headquarters on Ford Island, Hawai’i, Kennedy often sits in on meetings and is turned to for advice on authentication for issues related to local politics and cultural nuances. Her skill set, along with her ties to the island, proves indispensable and vital to accomplishing the JTF-RH mission.

"Professionally, she is the centerpiece that connects the joint task force to legislators on O'ahu," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jill Bourque, JTF-RH deputy chief of staff. "Personally, she is much more. She became the bridge of awareness for many of our non-local Service Members and afforded a more overall empathetic perspective on military relations with the local community."

Kennedy fits so well into the role she was entrusted with, one may argue she was born for it. Both of her parents retired as DoD civilians after serving for over three decades: her father serving for 42 years and her mother serving for 32. The duo also served in close proximity to the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam–perhaps foreshadowing a future career for their daughter. Her mother, Rosalita Riola, retired as a financial analyst while her father, Robert Riola Jr., retired as a fire protection engineer for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command.

Due to the traveling demands of her father’s career, Kennedy spent her childhood and early adolescence to and from Guam and to her mother’s homeland in the Philippines. Yet despite the ever-changing scenery, one thing remained constant: her tie to her father’s homeland, Kaua’i, Hawai’i.

“I came back home to Hawaiʻi every year,” said Kennedy. “Wherever we were in the world … my dad would send me and my sister back to my grandparents’ house on Kauaʻi.”

Her father expounded on this action and stated, “With Rana and her sister growing up overseas, it was important to me for them to get to know their family. Family is important.”

Family ties would prove to be beneficial as the Kennedy family moved near their Kaua’i based relatives to the island of O’ahu. Kennedy finished her high school education on island at the Mid-Pacific Institute and attended the University of Hawai’i where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Humanities focusing on Hawai’i, Pacific Island, and Asia History and Literature. Upon graduation, Kennedy found a variety of work to include: a staff role for a representative in Hawai’i state legislature; legislative affairs for USINDOPACOM; and her current role as the Command Historian for USINDOPACOM.

“My dad always advised me to get a federal civil service job,” said Kennedy. “I think it’s really honorable that I followed in my parents’ footsteps.”

Kennedy added, “To work at the JTF, and my dad being an engineer who worked at Red Hill, means a lot to me. I feel I have come full circle!”

And indeed, she did come full circle. The RHBFSF that Kennedy and the rest of the JTF-RH team will defuel, is the same facility her father worked on. The legislative affairs workload she toiled on the way to her ideal career as a historian, became the backbone of the position she is currently entrusted with. The connection she forged to Hawai’i as a child along with the rigorous study of the region’s history, allowed her to become the voice of authenticity and empathy needed for JTF-RH’s mission.

The task force's “embedded historian” looks forward to adding the defueling of the RHBFSF to the history books.

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