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NEWS | June 25, 2024

Palauan Marine Corps Veteran: Paramount High Chief Reklai, Raphael Ngirmang, Leadership and Legacy

By 1st Lt. John Carter, 1st Marine Logistics Group

As the U.S. Marines conclude their time during exercise Valiant Shield 24 and transition into exercise Koa Moana 24, key leaders had the honor of meeting with Paramount High Chief Reklai, Raphael Ngirmang. Ngirmang, who has direct access to the President of Palau and advises the Palauan government as Paramount High Chief to ensure the laws respect the cultural boundaries, is a towering figure in Palau's history and a living testament to the spirit of the Marine Corps.

Ngirmang, the first Micronesian to join the Marine Corps, has a story that is as inspiring as it is unique. Standing at just 5 feet 2 inches and weighing 128 pounds, Ngirmang had to obtain a waiver to join the Marine Corps due to his small stature. Yet, what he lacked in size, he more than made up for in determination and heart. Once he received the green light, Ngirmang embarked on a remarkable journey that began at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and spanned 28 years, finally retiring at the rank of first sergeant.

As an 0331 machine-gunner, Ngirmang's career took him to many corners of the world. He served in Okinawa, Hawaii, Lebanon during the 1958 conflict with Israel, California, and Guam. His dedication and bravery were further exemplified through multiple tours in Vietnam, where he spent four years in a five-year timespan. He served with distinction in the landmark battles Khe Sanh and Hue City during the 1968 Tet Offensive.

Ngirmang's dedication to the Marine Corps’ core values remain unwavering. "Every day, I still shave my face before I start my day. And every time I look in the mirror and shave, I think of the same three things to live out my day – Honor, Courage, and Commitment," he shared. This daily ritual is a testament to his lifelong adherence to the principles that define the Marine Corps, principles that have guided him throughout his remarkable journey.

During the recent meeting with the Marines, the 91-year-old’s enduring Esprit de Corps was palpable. His words carried the weight of experience and the wisdom of a seasoned veteran who still very much holds the title “United States Marine.” He took the opportunity to impart valuable messages to the Marine leaders as they prepared for their operations in support of exercise Koa Moana 24:

"I look at you and have so much confidence," Ngirmang began, his voice soft-spoken, yet steady and assured. "You’re being assigned to Palau. You have an important job." He emphasized the significance of the Marines' presence in Palau, urging them to build strong relationships with the local community. "Make sure we have a good relationship with the people," he advised.

Ngirmang acknowledged the sacrifices Marines make, often spending long periods away from home. "The Marines sacrifice a lot; they’re away from home a lot traveling overseas," he said, recognizing the challenges that come with their duty. However, he highlighted the critical role Marines play in maintaining global security and freedom. "Marines made a commitment, so fulfill that commitment because we need the Marines to preserve and protect our freedom. Commitment not only to the U.S. and allies but all the globe."

Reflecting on the impact of Marine service, Ngirmang shared his belief in the lasting benefits of the Corps' training. "I don’t care if Marines serve for four years or for thirty. When they get out of the Corps, they’ll be an asset to their community. They have the discipline." He stressed the importance of the Marines as role models in Palau. "In Palau, they are the role model for the young men and women. It’s very important for Palau to just see Marines around. I want the youth to see how Marines behave. See how Marines do things."

Ngirmang spoke passionately about the opportunities that await Marines after their service. "After being a Marine, they will be offered the opportunity to be community leaders," he said, highlighting the leadership qualities instilled in Marines. "The Marine Corps trains and creates leaders." He concluded with a reminder of the responsibility that comes with this training. "It’s our responsibility to them [Marines] to train them to be young leaders."

As Combat Logistics Battalion 13 embarks on their mission in the Pacific Island countries including Palau during exercise Koa Moana 24, the partnership between the U.S. Marines and Palau is set to strengthen even further. Ngirmang's words underscore the enduring alliance and shared values that bind the two nations. This ongoing collaboration not only enhances regional security but also fosters mutual respect and understanding.

​The presence of CLB-13 in Palau is a testament to the deep-rooted ties and commitment to a shared future. Ngirmang's legacy and the Marine Corps' dedication highlight the importance of these bonds. His story exemplifies the enduring values of service, commitment, and leadership that define the Marine Corps and inspire those who follow in his footsteps.