US Army commander apologizes to Marshall Islands

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US Army Commander Colonel Thomas Pugsley has issued a personal apology to the people of the Marshall Islands for the ‘breaking of established protocols’ last week for Army repatriation groups arriving at the Reagan Test Site from Kwajalein Atoll.

In comments published in this week’s edition of the Marshall Islands Journal, the commander said that with the Marshall Islands government, “Since the incident, we have jointly reviewed protocols and put in place additional measures for to strenghten”.

The regular weekly flight of army personnel flown by military transport from Honolulu to Kwajalein last week on Tuesday was cleared from Hawaii before Covid test results were available. Three of the 37 passengers tested positive for Covid immediately after arriving in Kwajalein.

All 37 are in quarantine and the three positive people are considered borderline cases.

US Army Regan Test Site Commander Colonel Thomas Pugsley, right, with MPs Stephen Phillip and Hiroshi Yamamura at the August 2021 opening of parliament in Majuro. He announced he changed Covid prevention protocols this week following a breach of entry requirements
Photo: Wilmer Joel

While Covid variants and infection levels will continue to change, Pugsley said, “we at USAG-KA (US Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll) are committed to our collaborative work with the Government of the Islands. Marshall in our common goal to help keep the nation Covid -19 free.”

Pugsley listed several changes to protocols following Army authorities in Hawaii allowing all 37 USAG-KA personnel to board a military flight to Kwajalein before Covid test results were released. are available for review.

A key change as a result of this breach of protocol is that the commander “placed flight clearance authority under the direct responsibility of the USAG-KA commander.”

Col. Pugsley described other changes USAG-KA has made to strengthen its Covid prevention environment:

Changed lab testing provider in Hawaii to one that guarantees results in less than 24 hours.

Aerial view of the main island of Kwajalein Atol

Aerial view of the main island of Kwajalein Atoll, which is the headquarters of the US Army’s Reagan Test Site, a major missile defense installation. Fish in the base lagoon have high levels of chemical contamination.
Photo: Giff Johnson

Completed a joint review of entry requirements to the Marshall Islands in conjunction with the Marshall Islands National Disaster Committee and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Instituted a fifth-day testing protocol in the event of a case being detected at the border or whenever an unsterilized flight is used. Usually, weekly army groups arrive by military transport. Sometimes they use the twice-weekly United Airlines flights which also include passengers traveling to Guam who have not gone through the same quarantine and Covid testing requirements.

Expanded sharing of information on quarantine medical data and Covid-19 test results to include the Marshall Islands epidemiologist.

“The safety and well-being of everyone in the Marshall Islands is of critical importance,” the commander said. “Since the start of the pandemic, our collaborative efforts with the Marshall Islands government have resulted in the successful repatriation of approximately 2,500 people.”

USAG-KA “is strongly committed to keeping the coronavirus out of the Marshall Islands,” he said. The Marshall Islands and USAG-KA jointly developed tiered Covid-19 prevention protocols that “worked as intended, and successfully captured and isolated the three borderline cases,” the commander added.

Authorities in the Marshall Islands confirmed earlier this week that while the three Covid-positive people remained positive when tested over the weekend, the other 34 passengers on the flight last week tested negative. They remain in quarantine for a period of two weeks and their release next week depends on a final negative Covid test.

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