CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii -- A group of students from the U.S. Naval Academy, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, the University of Hawaii and Whitman College recently wrapped up a summer internship on the Ebeye Atoll as part of the Pacific ALLIES Program.
The Pacific ALLIES program brings together students from the United States and host nation sponsors from the Government of Kwajalein (KALGOV), in the Marshall Islands – where the Ebeye Atoll is located.
This part of the Marshall Islands, often described as a “living sustainability laboratory” by U.S. researchers and Marshallese leadership, is a unique place where organizations and nation states can test ideas and study environmental problems, like sea-level rise mitigation and food and water security techniques.
While on Ebeye Atoll, the cohort was able to assist with a unique geo-location and census effort titled the Streetview Coastal Research and Demographic Survey. This effort was supported by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), Code 34 Warfighter Performance Department, Human and Bioengineered Systems Division.
“The whole internship was very eye-opening,” said U.S. Coast Guard Cadet Ani Phelps, a Marine Science major. “On our first day we were sitting in the back of a truck with some students who were singing and playing their ukuleles. Ever since that first moment, the songs continued the whole time -- along with the stories and laughter. I feel this internship has allowed us to have so many connections with the Marshallese.”
Phelps wants to do research in areas such as Oceania in the future. Being able to live in Ebeye and experience the culture was helpful in her understanding of the area and allowed her and the others to develop ideas for future projects.
“We are thinking of making marine science a larger part of this internship,” said Phelps. “Next year there may be more coral reef research and work with the students.”
Ebeye has an especially vulnerable population with a higher density than Manhattan, and sixty percent of people living on the atoll are under 18 years of age, with little opportunity beyond working on U.S. Army Garrison, Kwajalein Atoll (USAG-KA).
The geo-location and census effort is the first time that these types of initiatives have been undertaken on the atoll and will aid in improving situational awareness for disaster awareness and health emergencies.
“We were able to reach about 200 homes,” said Skye Goedert, a recent graduate of Whitman College. “We asked simple questions such as, how many people live here, how many are under 18 years of age, and do you have food or fresh water. This setup is a basic structure of the survey so the local people can do this in the future by themselves.”
They used a phone application that allows high school students to go around the community and record what their basic needs are and assign people to addresses, which is a system that has not existed there, Goedert explained.
“If a disaster were to ever hit, knowing how many people are on the island would be extremely important,” said Goedert. “Knowing who has electricity, food and who needs provisions and where to go to give them the help will be easier in the future.”
The geo-location effort has the added benefit of allowing people thousands of miles away, the ability to see what Ebeye looks like, said U.S. Coast Guard Cadet Elaine Weaver. This gives the people of Ebeye a sense they are part of a global community.
The students' research and host-nation engagement focus on addressing core vulnerabilities to real-world security and stability issues, namely through youth education and capacity building. Projects to date include coastal surveys, robotics instruction, scientific methods for reef health, and STEM assistance for Ebeye Middle School summer camp.
After the internship, the cohort traveled to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) headquarters where they briefed Maj. Gen. Suzanne P. Vares-Lum, Mobilization Assistant to USINDOPACOM Commander on the program.
"This program is helping to equip our next-generation military leaders to face complex non-traditional security challenges through civilian and military collaboration," said Vares-Lum. "The fantastic work these cadets and midshipmen did this summer is going to greatly help the Government of Kwajalein as well as reinforce USINDOPACOM's commitment to maintain relationships with our allies and partners in the Oceania region."
“Some may ask, what could you do with four students and cadets,” said Gregg Nakano, a doctoral candidate with the College of Education at the University of Hawaii. “The idea is not the numbers, the idea is proof of concept. If we can show this can work with just a couple friends and almost no resources, then imagine using a larger institution with many talented people. Scale this effort throughout other locations around the world and they can have a greater impact in larger communities.”
USINDOPACOM protects and defends, in concert with other U.S. Government agencies, the territory of the United States, its people, and its interests. With allies and partners, USINDOPACOM is committed to enhancing stability in the Indo-Pacific region by promoting security cooperation, encouraging peaceful development, responding to contingencies, deterring aggression, and, when necessary, fighting to win. This approach is based on partnership, presence, and military readiness.