ANGARU, Republic of Palau -- The Engineer Platoon of Task Force (TF) Koa Moana (KM) 20, I Marine Expeditionary Force, integrated with a joint U.S. team for an expansion project at the Angaur Airfield in the state of Angaur, Republic of Palau, Aug. 19-26, 2020.
The airfield, which is publicly owned by the state of Angaur, was originally built to support the Battle of Peleliu in 1944. The U.S. Coast Guard continued using the airfield through the ‘80s. When the Coast Guard station in Angaur was stood down, the jungle surrounding the airfield encroached on the space, creating obstacles for military and local commercial flights.
In early August of 2020, while TF KM20 was already conducting airfield repairs in the nearby state of Peleliu, Governor Kennosuke Suzuky, of Angaur, requested assistance in improving the Angaur Airfield. The U.S. Ambassador to Palau, John Hennessey-Niland, approached TF KM20’s commander, U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Thomas Stona, and asked if the Marines could assist in the effort.
This would require extending their deployment by a week, but according to Stona, the Marines were eager to help in partnership with the U.S. Army Pacific Command, the U.S. Navy Civic Action Team Palau, and the Air Force personnel who assisted in the execution of the project.
“The ambassador asked me on Aug. 6 if we would entertain this project,” said Stona. “Thirteen days later we broke ground with a U.S. Army-funded construction team; seven days after that we were done, and a U.S. Air Force airfield certification officer had completed his report, deeming it C-130-capable.”
Stona added that by having a runway that can handle a large aircraft like a C-130, the Republic of Palau is assured the U.S. will be able to assist in case of a natural disaster or other humanitarian crisis. The enhancement of this infrastructure can also help expand tourism in Angaur, he said.
“I would like to commend Governor Suzuky’s pragmatism,” Stona said. “He saw an opportunity to enhance his state’s infrastructure; he approached the Palauan government and the U.S. Embassy, and within a couple of weeks he had a C-130-capable airfield in Angaur.”
“The project went well,” said 1st Lt. Geoffrey Tanner, the TF KM20 engineer officer in charge. “It’s a unique opportunity for our Marines, and it’s rewarding to know we’re contributing to the partnership between our two nations.”
Tanner, who leads a group of 21 combat engineers and utilities Marines, said the engineer detachment was responsible for clearing roughly 72,000 square feet of double-canopy jungle.
Tanner said he is overwhelmingly proud of his team and the effort and dedication they showed to accomplishing their mission, including showcasing seldom-used skills like tree felling.
“It was a lot of hard work,” said Cpl. Jacob Carew, a combat engineer. “It was really significant and fulfilling, and it meant a lot to be able to put our name on a project like this.”
Marines and Sailors with TF KM20 conducted engagements in the Republic of Palau during July and August 2020. Koa Moana, meaning “ocean warrior,” is designed to strengthen and enhance relationships between the U.S. and partner nations/states in the Indo-Pacific region, improve interoperability with local security establishments, and serve as a Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team afloat in support of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s strategic and operational objectives. TF KM20 provides a unique opportunity to enhance relationships in the Republic of Palau.