The Sand Castle

A Lady Engineer in Afghanistan or Anywhere…

Beads Beads Beads

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If I keep this up, people will think I’m not antisocial and introverted…

I had seen many beautiful examples of her work, so when the ad was posted about a Bead Class offered I thought, well why not?  If I can paint (sort of), perhaps I can create beaded beauties as well?

Our class host, Nikki Maxwell – Kwaj Queen of Beads, brought dozens of boxes with literally millions of beads for us to choose from, for each of us to create our own bracelet and earrings.  From large stones and signature pieces to the tiniest wee beads, every color, shape, material imaginable.  Along with all the tools, wire, clasps and other necessities for jewelry making.

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Nikki (in the red apron) patiently answered questions, demonstrated technique and offered suggestions to give each piece balance or that special pizzazz.

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My bracelet creation is on the left below – a freeform, rather eclectic combination of shape and color which appeals probably only to myself.  And since I don’t have pierced ears, I opted instead to make a pretty crystal dangle-y for one of my windows.

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Towards the end of the session I found a gorgeous silver leaf amongst Nikki’s bits and baubles, and immediately envisioned it as the centerpiece for a long beaded necklace.  So, I described my vision and commissioned Nikki to create a masterpiece for me.  It was mine just a few days later and she nailed it – multicolor multi-shaped stones each separated by tiny silver beads.  You may not agree but it’s gorgeous, one of a kind, and perfect!

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What shall be my next social and/or crafty challenge on Kwaj?  Another Paint Party is coming up this weekend…

26 April 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Found It

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Found it.  Proof of just exactly how far we are from any sort of civilization.

I knew it existed on Kwajalein because several months ago before my move to Kwaj, back when googling and researching and reading everything I could find about this place, I came across a snapshot of the Kwaj signpost, mentioning it in a January post.  This time, the photo above is of mine own taking.

The famous Kwaj Signpost is not really difficult to find, just set in one of those areas I don’t regularly travel in the course of the day.  It’s located over by the airport – which makes sense since that is how nearly everyone arrives on island – right by the Bucholz Memorial and across the street from the flags.

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Our airport is officially known as the Bucholz Army Airfield, initially constructed by the Japanese in 1943 as part of a large naval base.  It is named in honor of WWII hero PFC Fred Henry Bucholz, who “gave all” in the battle for Kwajalein in 1944.  PFC Bucholz was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for “extraordinary heroism”.

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So, if you were to arrive in Kwajalein via the ever-so-kind-and-understanding United Airlines, or a Military flight, turn right when you leave the “terminal”, walk over and check out the distance to your favorite city.  Hopefully you won’t want to jump right back on the plane you came in on.

I hear that has happened…

19 April 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Easter Sunrise In Paradise

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Today was my second favorite Easter Sunrise Service ever.  I still have to give the Number 1 spot to that service in 2011 at FOB Shindand In Afghanistan though, featured in the post Easter Sunrise.

Takes nothing away from the awesome service this morning in paradise though!

For the choir, musicians, ministers of God and myself, this morning began well before dawn at Emon Beach.  The choir had a last minute rehearsal/warmup call at 5:55am for a final run through.  The church normally doesn’t have a choir so this was a special do for this particular service.

As the cloud-strewn sky was lightening a couple hundred islanders joined in the service, which went beautifully.  Our special song was well-received (we even got invited for another gig) and the preaching was on point.

Best part of the day followed the service, where several new brothers and sisters in Christ were baptized in the beautiful blue waters of our lagoon.

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Afterwards – joy, fellowship and potluck at the beach.  Yes, I’ll take some of those lumpias…

He is risen!

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15 April 2017 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Paint Party

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What a fun night this was!

First time ever participating in a Paint & Sip kind of event, and I’ve already signed up for two more.  The event was held at Ye Ol’ Vets Hall and although I paid my buck for a can o’ Coke and cuppa ice, there wasn’t a lot of room on the table so I’ll probably skip the sip next time.  That and I almost dumped my paint brush into the Coke cup instead of water cup on numerous occasions.  I believe one lady even drank from her painty-water cup…

We had a pretty large group of participants, maybe 18 ladies and a couple of guys, and of course our fearless instructor Kara.

Here is a progession of my personal masterpiece:

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The session lasted several hours and it was great seeing everyone’s “take” on the project.  I opted for no words, an extra cloud and glittery gold sand.  There are several areas on the masterpiece I would have tweaked given the time, but not bad for a first effort, I thought.  Especially considering my last paint-on-canvas was a paint-by-number in my teens.

And of course, less than 5 minutes into the event I was covered in paint.  Not my fault though – the big squirt bottle full of paint did it!

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The photo below highlights some of the painters with our finished products – Kara did a wonderful job with the rather unruly group whose artistic side she was trying to unleash!

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Next masterpiece creation theater is in a few weeks, featuring palm trees and a hammock.  Another sold-out event.

8 April 2017 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , | 8 Comments

The Quiet Woman

Mary Kate Danaher

My household goods are here, arriving in good time 43 days after leaving Johnsonburg and the Pennsylvania Wilds.  About 2000 pounds of stuff, boxed then stuffed into 2 separate wooden crates which were each one sheet of plywood tall by 2 sheets of plywood long.  I’m surrounded by boxes and drowning in packing paper.

But my stuff didn’t take the trip I had anticipated.

Back when they were being packed up, the moving guy indicated that from Johnsonburg my goods were going to Altoona to be crated up, then to Baltimore and placed on a cargo ship.  Through the Panama Canal and eventually to our tiny Pacific atoll via other ports unknown.

My crates arrived on Kwaj via C-17.

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Say wha?  So where all have they been for the past 43 days?  The route they took can only be surmised.  Johnsonburg to Altoona for sure.  But instead of trucked to Baltimore they were either trucked or trained to the west coast.  The C-17 was most likely out of Travis AFB in California.  Or maybe Hickam Field in Honolulu.  Who knows the roads, rails, tarmac, oceans and skies my things have traveled?

Anyway, now begins the process of converting this massive echoing concrete bunker into a home.  Kitchen and bedroom the first priorities…

A week or so later there is some order overcoming the chaos.  I can get to the couch again.  My big Afghan rugs have been rolled out.  Rolling wire shelves have been reconstructed, a few pictures have been hung, about a dozen boxes remain to be dealt with as time allows.  The kitchen is still cluttered but taking shape – finding a spot for all my tea things remains the biggest challenge.

So happy to now be surrounded by mine own bits and baubles, like Maureen O’Hara as Mary Kate Danaher in The Quiet Man, one of my all time favorite movies.  There is definitely something calming and comforting about personalizing and accessorizing your living space, something special about “my own chairs to rest upon, my own china and pewter shining about me…”

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Be it ever so humble.

1 April 2017 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Transportation in Paradise

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As we are reminded on a regular basis by our Garrison Commander, the primary mode of transportation on Kwajalein is the bicycle, followed closely by walking.  I’ll focus in greater detail on the hardy and quirky Kwaj Bike in a future post, so here will show a few alternatives to the 1-person-power option.

Shuttle buses like that shown above make limited loops of the island in the mornings, around lunch and in the afternoons.   It’s a standard airport type shuttle and I believe the A/C in all of them is permanently stuck on the “meat locker” setting.

Since they do not allow anyone to stand in the shuttles, for higher traffic times, dee beeg white bus shown below is sometimes used.  Lots of rust showing, inside and out.  No A/C on this one and I think I prefer it that way.

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My favorite mode of on-island transportation is the electric golf cart (called a scooter here on Kwaj).  I think they are my fave because I’ve never really used them much before.  The occasional ATV and incredibly noisy gators we had at East Branch, yes.  Golf carts, no.  We have several for work – law enforcement is very strict about folks not using work vehicles for personal use.  No work vehicles north of downtown (car, cart or truck), mainly due to safety issues in the housing areas with little kids running around on their bikes.   No taking them for a lunch run (that’s the rule everywhere).  But they are nice to have when running to a Garrison meeting in my official capacity.

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Since riding home from work involves slogging along for a couple of miles battling 20mph head winds (after which my knees hurt for a day or so) and the occasional rain shower, I generally do the shuttle thang to and from work.

You can in your free time rent a QOL scooter (Quality of Life) for personal and not work use, for $5/hour or a pickup for $7/hour say if you need to haul stuff or just want to explore without as much exertion.  Or go to one of the farther beaches with coolers full of hydrating beverages.

I’ve not “driven” anything except tryke or scooter since arriving on Kwaj – maybe I’ll rent a truck one of these days just to remember what it’s like.  High speed travel seems very distant and foreign already…

26 March 2017 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , , | 4 Comments

The Front Nine

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Okay, so I’m not by any stretch of the imagination a golfer.  I have officially played golf once – maybe twice – in my life, more than 3 decades ago.  Not including putt-putt of course.   If I were a golfer, the thought of playing in 20mph trade winds would make me not a golfer again.

Be that as it may, there are many people here on Kwajalein who enjoy spending their free time at the Holmberg Fairways Golf Course and Country Club.  The 9-hole, 18-tee course is a 2,945-yard par 36, with driving range and practice green.  The clubhouse has lockers and party rooms and comfy chairs, Bogey’s the bar is air-conditioned.

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The KGA (Kwajalein Golf Association – you can find them on Facebook) sponsors numerous themed tournaments throughout the year, including night golf – I hear that’s a fun one to watch.

This post is dedicated to my Dad, who enjoyed a round of golf when he had the time – miss you!

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Freaky Fact #1:  The Back Nine is on Roi-Namur, only separated from the Front Nine by a water hazard (50 miles of lagoon).

Freaky Fact #2:  You can drive golf carts about anywhere on the island, except on the golf course.   

23 March 2017 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Commuting in Paradise

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It took me nearly an hour and a half to get to the job site the other day, but since most of that time was spent on a catamaran I sure ain’t complaining.

While the primary modus transporti on Kwajalein is the bicycle, sometimes we have construction projects on other islands around the Atoll, hence rendering the Kwaj Bike useless.

So on this particular morning I walked with all my gear a couple 3 blocks over to the pier, went through security, boarded the catamaran.  Inside A/C, outside view.  The boat trip took just over an hour before arriving at our destination.

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Spent an hour or so reviewing the project and exploring a bit, met a bunch of people, had a meeting or 2, walked back down to the dock and got back on board.

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This was one of those days where I can’t believe I get paid to work here.  So thankful!

Heading back to Kwaj…

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19 March 2017 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Signs of Paradise

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There are many unique and not so unique signs around the island.  The one above is unique, to me anyway.  There are 2 of these on the little road at each end of the runway.  If you don’t heed this sign, or decide to take a shortcut across the airfield to get to the Country Club, your time on island will come to an abrupt end as you’re escorted to the next flight out.

The not so unique signage includes speed limit signs – either 10 mph or 15 mph (the wind blows faster than we’re allowed to drive, sometimes more than twice as fast).  The speed limit applies to all methods of personnel propulsion – bikes, scooters (golf carts), cars and trucks.

The sign below is quite common, but not quite as common as the palm tree dangers of which they warn.

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My family will know why I like this sign:

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This next one really made me laugh, because of where it’s posted.  Emon Beach.  Yes, please be courteous and don’t spearfish around the little kids and families…

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Okay so this next sign isn’t on Kwaj but I still love it.  Found it on a building we’re demolishing.

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One last picture for this St Patty’s Day post, located on the side of my commuter vehicle the other day:

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Definitely signs of paradise.

16 March 2017 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

USACE on Kwaj

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There’s nothing particularly exciting about the building that the Corps of Engineers on Kwaj shares with several other tenants.  Solidly constructed of reinforced block and concrete in the early 50’s, windowless, nondescript, tan.

The inside has probably been remodeled more than a few times, the furniture piecemeal government hand-me-downs where nothing matches anything else.

My computer sits on a large rectangular plain wooden table with a narrow center drawer.  My well-worn desk chair is past being able to adjust but thankfully is short enough that I don’t swing my legs when I sit.  It does tilt ever so slightly forward though, so I feel I might slip out of it one of these days when I’m not paying enough attention.  The ‘work table’ to my right is a gun-metal grey desk, standard issue a few decades ago, with 1/3 of the drawers rusted or jammed shut.  There is also a tall metal bookcase which has seen a few wars, but was spray painted a light tan within the last decade.  Same as the interior wall color, same as the exterior wall color, same as my house color.  There are also 2 low plush and vinyl burnt-orange easy chairs that may have been quite comfortable in the 70’s, but now swallow you whole unless you’re quite tall.

We have a great team here though – there’s 9 of us at the moment and I wouldn’t trade any of them.  Only one guy newer to the island than me, but he’s a short-timer here on TDY to help out for a bit.  All are engineers, conreps (construction control representatives, what we used to call inspectors) and techs.  We need to hire an admin person and several more engineers and conreps, but are currently hamstrung by the hiring freeze.   More personnel or not, more and more contracts will be awarded in the next few months.

My main job seems to be negotiating base politics and relationships.  Two of my guys are dedicated to a couple of Space Fence projects for the Air Force.   The rest focus on several infrastructure projects mostly here on Kwaj but also on Roi-Namur, and a project for the MDA (Missile Defense Agency) on yet another island.   We’re spread pretty thin as it is, with another 7 projects or so to be awarded between now and end of the fiscal year.

This just means we’re all busy and there’s never a dull moment.  And of course, working in paradise does have its perks…

12 March 2017 Posted by | Kwajalein, US Army Corps of Engineers | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments