ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- “Out in the back of my grandpa’s house there were mangrove trees just above the water line after the tide came in. I would love going back there and build forts with wood that I’d find, like I would in America, and people wouldn’t understand what I was doing. It was 90 degrees and my grandfather would be yelling at me in Palauan, ‘Get inside, you’re going to pass out from the heat!’ He would call me an American but I would just sit out there building forts.”
These are the memories that came flooding back into the mind of Staff Sgt. Roger Remoket, 356th Aircraft Maintenance Unit F-35 dedicated crew chief, as he stepped back onto Palau soil on Feb 8, 2021, for the first time in 26 years.
“I had to pound this stake in the ground for the grounding cord on the airfield,” Remoket said. “As I was hitting it and I was looking at the dirt I thought, ‘oh man, it was so long ago that I was playing in this dirt; chasing geckos, fishing, and shooting BB guns.’”
Remoket’s parents are from the tiny Pacific island nation of the Republic of Palau. He is 100% Palauan, but was born in Oregon and lived most of his life between California and Montana. His mom moved back to Koror, Palau, when he was 8-years old with his siblings. After he spent four or five months with her and the rest of his family there, he chose to return to the U.S. with his guardian, who he said he would later call dad, for more opportunities. This kind of background was hard for him as a young man growing up seeking acceptance and community.
“Natives from Palau call me American because I've lived in America all my life,” Remoket said. “I grew up in and around Montana, and that wasn't always the friendliest place. We’d get to some towns and kids thought it'd be cool to pick on the colored kid. I wasn’t Palauan to them; they just called me names. So, I'd get in a lot of fights, but now I know these guys and they are friends of mine. It was just kids growing up. They just thought they’d be cool to pick on the different kid.”
While Remoket’s guardian served in the U.S. Air Force and his guardian’s father retired from the same service, Remoket postponed his thoughts of joining the Air Force to first try his hand at a trade school and became a diesel mechanic.
“I was working at Ford. I liked it, but it didn't have fulfillment,” Remoket said. “I needed purpose. You know that feeling you get when you hear the Pledge of Allegiance? I was also looking for camaraderie and community.
“When I was in Palau, they thought I was American and when I was growing up in America, they saw me as different,” he explained. “It’s like, I’m an islander, but I’m not, but I am… I think the Air Force bridged the gap. I could call on people that I’ve met throughout the Air Force if I ever broke down and they’d come and help me. Working in maintenance, we’ve built a pretty tight bond.”
After a long winding journey, his arrival back home after over two and a half decades marks Remoket’s favorite moment in the Air Force. How that came about wasn’t exactly expected.
“When I was selected to come out there, it wasn’t like, ‘hey, I know you’re Palauan,’” Remoket said. “They were trying to see who would want to go. So they said, ‘hey, do you like camping?’ in case the jets needed maintenance and they wouldn’t know when they’d get parts to you.
‘Yeah, I like camping.’
‘Have you ever heard of an island called Palau?’
‘Yeah, I’m from there. 100% Palauan.’
‘Oh, ok. You’re going to Palau then.’”
If winding up on a three square mile speck in the middle of a 63 million square mile ocean wasn’t enough, Remoket would soon find himself in yet another surreal and entirely fortuitous situation. While there for only what amounted to about four hours, he met Palau's new president, Surangel Whipps Jr.
“So we heard that he was going to be there,” Remoket said. “The plan was to land a C-130 that we were refueling from and position it and get it ready for when the F-35s came down. But right when we landed and the door opened, we saw the jets land. So, we had to hustle and we saw this group of people coming out and a bunch of people surrounding someone and I thought, ‘that looks like the president.’”
“Before we left, I looked him up because I knew he had just became president on the 21st of January, I think. I saw him leaving and we were packed up, so I thought I should try to meet him,” Remoket said. “I just ran up and said, ‘hi sir.’ They looked at me and I pointed to my name and they were like, ‘oh, hey!’ Then he spoke to me in Palauan and we took a bunch of pictures.”
"He told me, ‘You are Palauan and we are all family and are proud of you and your service. God bless and keep safe.’”
This was affirmation to Remoket in the truest form. He traveled the world, and while he felt acceptance in the Air Force, that intimate longing for roots remained. With those simple words from the president, Remoket’s search became clearer. While unable to see his mother while on Palau, he has since reconnected with her.
“Being from Palau but never being around Palauans, growing up with my guardian; I always felt out of place,” Remoket said. “Joining the Air Force was like trying to find purpose, or meaning, or something to do that makes you proud. Somehow I never thought it would bring me all the way back to the beginning…to Palau... my home.”
Staff Sgt. Remoket participated in Exercise Cope North 21 on Guam and Palau. This was the culmination of a lot of training and the first time they got to employ and deploy 12 F-35s in the INDOPACOM arena as well as practice agile combat deployment events, exercising the new F-35 5th generation combat capability.
Remoket is now back home in Eielson, Alaska with his wife, four year old twins and baby on the way.