KOROR, PALAU –
U.S. Marines and Sailors with I Marine Expeditionary Force concluded Task Force Koa Moana 23 in the Indo-Pacific region on Sept. 30, 2023. The task force was task-organized into multiple detachments with expertise in providing engineering, medical, maritime law enforcement, and explosive ordnance disposal capabilities.
Named Koa Moana, a Hawaiian phrase meaning “ocean warrior,” the task force is designed to strengthen relationships between the U.S. and partner nations in Oceania.
“Koa Moana is the Marine Corps’ attempt to have a larger outreach in the Indo-Pacific,” said 2nd Lt. Ryan Degnan, a native of Monroe, New York and a ground supply officer with the task force. “We are going to islands we haven’t really been to before or haven’t had a large presence in recent years. Micronesia is a good example of that. It’s all about community relations; getting with the communities and helping them out.”
According to Degnan, community relations is what differentiates the United States from its adversaries.
“We like to get personal and make friends with countries,” said Degnan. “If we have to come here in the future, we already know business owners and we have these pre-established relationships that we can use to our advantage.”
This year’s iteration deployed to six locations: Papua New Guinea, Republic of Palau, and the four states of the Federated States of Micronesia. Additionally, Koa Moana had three episodic locations: Guam, Kiribati, and Solomon Islands, which focused on monument clean ups.
“We accomplished more than 100 Operations, Activities, and Investments (OAI),” said Degnan. “We had multiple projects; the big ones were hospital repairs in Kosrae and Chuuk. In Kosrae, the Marines basically rebuilt the whole hospital. They were able to work with the U.S. Department of the Interior to get funding and we supplied the labor.”
While many OAIs were created during the task force’s pre-deployment site surveys, numerous projects were established while deployed.
“We discovered many projects on site,” said Degnan. “Many came from just talking with the community and building those relationships. Some were planned beforehand, but a good amount was created here when we talked to the right people and discovered things we didn’t even realize were possible to do.”
Over the three-month deployment, Marines and Sailors in Papua New Guinea worked on numerous renovation projects including a Papua New Guinea Defense Force shooting range, Port Moresby Nature Park, and PNGDF Air Transport Wing. In FSM, infrastructural projects included the Dr. Arthur P. Sigrah Memorial Hospital in Kosrae, Chuuk High School, Tomil Municipal Center on Yap and a Pohnpei shoot range. In Palau, projects included repairs to the Joint Range Complex and the flagpole at the president’s office as well as dental work for elementary school students.
According to Degnan, many of the Marines were performing in tasks outside of their occupational specialties.
“We kind of just had to make do with what we had and everyone was willing to learn new skills,” said Degnan. “It’s incredible how well these Marines performed out here. There are not too many engineers in our battalion; we have Motor-T, maintenance and supply and yet they were going out there and putting in work and long hours. They went above and beyond in all means. They were full speed the whole time. Just looking for each and every opportunity.”
Beyond labor-intensive projects, the task force also participated in numerous community relations activities including blood registration drives, mess nights, softball games and recruiting events.
“Building relationships all across the world is great, but maintaining those relationships is even more important,” said Sgt. Xavier Bridges, a native of Kirbyville, Texas and the Task Force Koa Moana 23 Palau detachment platoon sergeant. “That is something we’ve been able to do with Palau and the other islands. They love us out here and they asked us to stay, so I think that says a lot about us.”
For nearly a decade, Task Force Koa Moana has demonstrated U.S. commitment to the region and a shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.
“Overall, I would say Koa Moana was really successful,” said Bridges. “It seems like every island really enjoyed having the Marines there to work on projects and help out in the community.”