The Sand Castle

A Lady Engineer in Afghanistan or Anywhere…

Woman vs Bike

Today, I lost.

Had just stopped by the Post Office to mail my first two Christmas cards of the season. Got back on my bike, pushed off strongly with my left foot, then – disaster.

It had been raining, my left foot slipped suddenly off the pedal, I lost balance and crashed gloriously to the pavement.

My right leg twisted and wedged on the asphalt, bike on top of the leg, me face down on top of the bike. And I couldn’t get up.

For the first time ever, “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

Now, downtown Kwaj at 4:30 in the afternoon is a happenin’ place. Nearly 100 people saw me fall or heard the crash and witnessed the aftermath. Can you spell h-u-m-i-l-i-a-t-i-o-n?

I was fine as far as I could tell, but I couldn’t pull my leg out from under the bike because the right pedal, the bike and me were all keeping it wedged in. And I couldn’t lift myself off the bike since my entire right leg was wedged underneath.

It took the United States Army plus two additional able-bodied men to lift me and the bike together off the ground.

The Streamway seems to have come through unscathed, although the crash appears to have been the death-knell of the mostly rusted out front basket.

Me? A few scrapes, probably a multitude of bruises and tomorrow, I’m sure soreness in places I didn’t know existed. Sometimes I’m thankful for plenty of body fat to cushion important appendages. A bit worried about my extremely arthritic knees – hopefully I’ll still be able to walk in the morning.

I can’t really complain though – this is my first crash in 22 months on island.

Sincere gratitude and thanks to CPT Collins and the other folks who helped or expressed concern. And no one laughed!

I’m off to take a couple of arthritis-strength Tylenols then head to bed.

And actually, if you think back to when this bike ate my skirt (Bike Fight), I believe the score is as follows:

Bike 2, Kim 0.


24 November 2018 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Color Run Fun


Labor Day weekend was host to the Kwaj Color Run. It was billed as a fun run/walk for all ages and quite the crowd joined in.

I helped man one of the color stations, this one commanded by COL and Debbie DeOre.


Not sure where the megaphone came from but it was heavily utilized and assisted in alternately encouraging, challenging and once in a while shaming the run participants as they drew near the color station.

It was great fun and we nearly choked from laughing so hard while getting as covered in chalk dust as those we were trying to cover.




I call this next pic “Payback”…  COL DeOre had covered this little guy in color then someone slipped the boy some ammo of his own. He got in a couple of good shots on the Colonel before continuing on his run.


The last pic is one I call “Asphalt Aftermath”…  Yes, I took pictures of the road.  Color Run fun for all!


19 September 2018 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , | 4 Comments

Roi Again


Got to spend another day on Roi, and to further explore parts of the island missed on the last go round. And it almost didn’t happen…

We had just taken off from Kwaj in our trusty fixed wing aircraft and I was merrily taking pics of the Atoll out the wee window, when all of a sudden the wing on my side of the plane tilted upward steeply and we went into a sharp turn.


I wondered to those around me if we were headed back to Kwajalein. Was there a problem? Did we forget someone? Lots of speculation but no announcement from the pilots. No announcement because there doesn’t seem to be a speaker system in these planes.

Definitely got the adrenaline going, but we landed back at Kwaj safe and sound. Once back at the terminal and with engines shut down, the pilot came back and told everyone they had heard a strange noice, twice, and didn’t want to risk making the short hop to Roi. We needed to climb off and head back across the tarmac to the terminal. Another plane should be available soon.

After 30 minutes or so we boarded a second plane and headed off again into the wild blue yonder. This time was smooth sailing and we landed on Roi without event.

The pic below was taken just seconds before we touched down on Roi. The water really isn’t as close as it appears but then again, maybe it is…


Instead of meetings this trip was to take a look at all the island facilities for a part of the installation master planning effort.

Got to see quite a lot of the WWII structures remaining on island (built by the Japanese), but I’ll save those pics for a future post. I still cannot share some of the mission stuff that goes on here, but there’s plenty of other sights to see.


Kwaj doesn’t have a cool sign with anchors announcing our marina, but then again we don’t have the open space near ours. I had mentioned in my last post, titled simply Roi, that even though Kwaj is larger, Roi seems bigger as it has more green space.


Of course, Roi has its share of lovely ocean and lagoon views, with the same wonderful shades of beautiful blue waters.


Roi even has jungle. Quite a bit of the Namur side is thick with raw jungle – and that’s where quite a few of the historical sites can be found.


I’ll end this post with rainbows in the clouds. Saw quite a few of these on the flight back home.


23 August 2018 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments



As promised in my last post The Atoll, here are some musings and pics from my trip to Roi.-Namur.

Like Kwaj, Roi has a rich WWII history revolving around Operation Flintlock.  But unlike Kwaj, much of the infrastructure from the WWII era still remains on Roi.

The conjoined island of Roi-Namur is smaller than Kwaj at just about one square mile in size, but doesn’t really seem so. Where Kwaj is a sort of thin elongated horseshoe, Roi is not so narrow. Wider and shorter. This gives the appearance of greater expanses of “green space” and palm trees.


I can’t talk about the really cool secret squirrel mission stuff that goes on there, or share pictures thereof, but Roi seems to be even slower paced and more laid back than Kwaj.

Only a couple hundred folks live here and no kids, so the island really seems – and is – sparsely populated. Lots of free range chickens though, which was a surprise. Sitting in meetings with a rooster crowing outside the door was a bit surreal. I kept thinking it was someone’s cell phone ring tone, except cell phones don’t ring here.


Funny thing. Some guys were feeding them left over lunch bits. The chickens were happy with the french fries but really chowed down on the chicken tenders!

To continue, Roi has a much smaller dining facility and Shoppette. No food court or Macy’s strip mall.

But, they have the Outrigger.

Essentially a bar that serves lunch and dinner – pretty good menu and very decent food.  And WiFi.  Wish we had similar on Kwaj.

I hear the Snake Pit – sorry FMWR folks, the Oceanview Club – is going to eventually add a pizza oven and deep fryer for things like chicken wings, but it won’t be the same.  The Pit still has a fairly rough and wild reputation…  But, I digress.


Think I’d enjoy living on Roi, except for the reverse-commute and the fact that they only have 2 church services a month.

I’ll have to find the time to return though. Take the WWII tour and explore the coastline and jungle. Maybe even get a pic of the Roi Rats!

18 August 2018 Posted by | Kwajalein, US Army Corps of Engineers | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Atoll


Recently I took the short 15-20 minute hop from one end of Kwajalein Atoll to the other via tiny fixed wing flight, stayed overnight then returned the following night.

Kwaj the island and the island of Roi-Namur (the two islands of Roi and Namur were joined together with fill material back in WWII times) are about 50 miles apart, at opposite ends of the largest lagoon on the planet at 839 square miles. The Atoll has 90-something named islands, some quite small, with quite a few inhabited by Marshallese even though they have no utilities or infrastructure.   Total land area of the entire 97-island atoll?  A mere 6.3 square miles.

The pic below shows several “almost islands” – coral heads – that come really close to actually being tiny islands at low tide.


I did find one wee sandy isle along the west reef:


The flight was comfortable even though I – short as I am – could not stand up straight in the aisle of the plane.  The poor tall people were nearly bent over double trying to make their way to the seats, while I just had to bend my head down a bit.


I took this pic from my back (10th) row seat.  And I counted – for my row to be 10th meant the pilots were in row 1.  Back in college we engineering students used to call these wee planes “culverts with wings” and it’s a pretty apt description.  But this workhorse is a trusty steed which has made no telling how many safe and uneventful trips across the Atoll.

Altogether a rather enjoyable trip – I’ll share more about Roi-Namur itself in a later post.

New Kwaj Blog:  A brand new blog authored by a brand new Kwajite (Kwajalite?  Kwajer?  Kwajalian?) – welcome to Vanessa and her family!

       Small Island, Big Life: Posts from a Pacific Atoll


10 August 2018 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments



Say what?

Another paint party a couple weeks ago, this one a private do in honor of dear Heather, who with her family has just PCS’d off island. (We are very sad.)

Heather had a special request for her paint party – an octopus riding a bicycle. Her expression of the perfect Kwaj theme.

So all Ms Deb had to do was make the request a reality, and to no one’s surprise she created a masterpiece with the octopus being the bike. Then Debbie had to figure out how to teach a bunch of us to create our own masterpieces – and not to exceed the requisite eight tentacles.

Because this was fairly complex and detailed, Debbie made a few stencils for us to start with.

For my Octobike I chose the two metallic paint colors provided – you can’t tell from the pics but my cephalopod-bicycle is really quite shiny.

Progession of this work of art is as follows:




Here’s half our group and their finished masterpieces.


Heather we miss you guys!

5 August 2018 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Yes Change of Command


Earlier this month I posted No Change of Command which celebrated COL Jim DeOre’s one year anniversary of his reign over US Army Garrison – Kwajalein Atoll (USAG-KA). COL DeOre is halfway through his tour.

Yesterday I attended – yes – a Change of Command ceremony on Oahu at which my Commander changed.

Does that confuse anyone?

Although the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is indeed an Army organization, we do not fall under the command of the Army Garrison at Kwaj. We are a tenant organization on the island, supporting USAG-KA in many ways but primarily in the planning and administration of construction contracts that improve Garrison infrastructure.

So to put it more bluntly, COL DeOre is not in my food chain. LTC Jim Hoyman is, or was until shortly after 10am yesterday morning.

My boss is in Honolulu at Ft Shafter, as is his boss. My boss’ boss reports to the Commander of the Honolulu District of the Pacific Ocean Division of USACE, now LTC Kathryn Sanborn.


As to the ceremony itself, very impressive as expected with a good-sized crowd and lots of dignitaries, ‘ohana (family) and friends.

Unexpected was the wonderfully awesome presence of the 313th US Army Band.  They played some prelude music prior to the ceremony, and throughout, including the National Anthem of course, as well as the Hawaii State Song, Hawai’i Pono’i.


The ceremony was held in the historic and lovely Palm Circle parade ground on Ft Shafter, and went without a hitch.  The Kwajalein Resident Office and I even got a shout out during LTC Hoyman’s remarks.

Below is the exact moment that BG Tickner (our Division Commander) received the flag from LTC Hoyman and passed the colors – and Command – to LTC Sanborn.


At the end of the ceremony the band played three songs. The first was Aloha ‘Oe (which drew tears), the third was the US Army Song. The second selection, and my favorite, was the song of the Army Engineer, Essayons!

Pin the castle on my collar,

I’ve done my training for the team.

You can call me an engineer soldier,

The warrior spirit has been my dream.

Essayons, whether in war or peace,

We will bear our red and our white.

Essayons, we serve America,

And the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Essayons! Essayons!


21 July 2018 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Snorkel Heaven


Kwaj is indeed a Mecca for snorkeling (and diving of course).

So easy, so convenient, so many options, so spectacular and at times, a little scary…

Snorkel opportunities abound here on the Atoll, nearly right out everyone’s front door.

You don’t need a boat (although a boat opens up a kajillion more possibilities for you), you don’t need a lot of fancy expensive equipment, no need to plan a big road trip or spend a big chunk of your day.


Just grab your mask and snorkel (don’t even have to have fins) and head out your door.

There’s the tidal pools ocean side at low tide, and lagoon side there’s Emon Beach, Hamilton Beach, Coral Sands Beach, a few small unnamed beaches, the Ski Boat steps just south of Emon, and a couple of access points in Northpoint.   At least.

The farthest site for anyone here is maybe a 15-minute bike ride? Most are less than a 5-minute walk or ride.


This particular moment of snorkel heaven was just off Emon Beach. Had to ride from my house on one side of the island all the way to the other side to get there. Took like 3 minutes. Maybe.

This trip was at low tide. Just walk down the beach out into the water, and there you go. Absolute gorgeousness everywhere you look (except for the sea cucumbers – they’re gross and look like big black turds). So many different fish and other creatures, many bright and colorful variations.

I must admit, seeing the bad boy below freaked me out a bit. Over 6′ long or more, he circled around to check me out then went on his way.

“I am not the droid (or shark snack) you’re looking for…”


Saw another smaller version a few minutes later. The Black Tip sharks are curious but mostly leave us alone. My son said his name must be Bruce – “Fish are friends – not food!”

You wouldn’t want to be out there say spear fishing though when sharks are near.

img_1453       img_1454

All these pics were taken by my at-least-a-decade-old Canon Powershot D10, rated waterproof to 10 meters/33 feet.  I know for a fact it has survived 50 feet with my son and I off Cozumel…


Okay, so I checked Amazon and apparently this was purchased on 25 July 2010, so 8 years old not 10.

Charged and ready for the next adventure!

19 July 2018 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Bike Fight


I had posted this experience on Facebook back when it happened a couple of months ago. Thought I should memorialize it here…

Definitely falls under the category Life on Kwaj.  At least, it does if you tend to wear long skirts or dresses (or long pants) on occasion.


Why, you ask, is there a bike in the middle of my kitchen with some piece of clothing irremovably welded to the pedal crank?

It was an interesting morning…

So it’s Sunday. I’m a little behind schedule as I head out the door for song practice at the church before service.

I hop on my commuter vehicle and begin the ride to church.

I get maybe a 1/4-mile down the road when I come to an abrupt halt.

For the first time in 16 months the bottom of my skirt had been sucked through the frame and wrapped itself around the right side pedal crank.

Now I’m stuck.  Solidly attached to the bike.  Solidly attached very close to the bike.

I can see the problem.  Skirt not caught under the chain but wrapped around the pedal crank multiple times.  First thought was, “Just move the pedals backwards to unwind the material.”

Nope.  This bike has pedal brakes only – they don’t go backwards.

Ashley stopped to help.  She tried everything as well but no joy.  By this time I’m like, do you have a knife?

Since both of us were on our way to church, that was a no.

My only viable option was to walk the bike back home, whilst still firmly attached.  And so slowly I turned and trekked back to the house.

I was passing the Commander’s house when Debbie came running out (came running out barefoot across the gravels, I might add).  She was concerned since I was going the wrong way for that time on a Sunday morning.

I quickly explained/demonstrated the futility of anything less than lopping off a sizable piece of my skirt, and thanked her for the offer of assistance.

Made it home, around the carport, down the sidewalk, through the side door of the house, into the middle of the kitchen.

Now at least I could free myself from my pedal prison by peeling out of the skirt.  An option I was loath to take while in the middle of Ocean Road for all the island to see.

By now I’m late for practice so I just throw on another skirt and head out on my SUV (trike with baskets that I use to haul amazon boxes).

Then, after church and a bite to eat, time to see if I could salvage a skirt.

Bike turned upside down in the middle of the living room.  My plan was simply to take the bulk of the loose material and unwind the skirt from the pedal crank.

The area in question was the right hand pedal crank, the side with the chain and chain guard.  Lots of cross pieces and bracing as well as the main frame of the bike since it’s a low step-through.

It was a floor length skirt and I’m a big woman.  Masses of material to shove back through an awkward and very tiny space.  Suffice it to say that in no time the skirt was wedged in even tighter than before.  Sort of felt like I was trying to shove a camel through the eye of a needle.  The Lord could do it but not I.  Time for the scissors…

The skirt did not survive the procedure.

Bike, one.  Skirt, zero.

Glad it wasn’t one of my favorites, and a life lesson learned.

Island life. Things don’t always go right but there are friends all around to help you out!


14 July 2018 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

No Change of Command


Happy Kwajiversary to COL Jim & Debbie DeOre!

Not sure what day they initially landed on Kwaj (actually Debbie told me at the 4th festivities that it was 05 July), but COL DeOre officially became our Garrison Commander one year ago today on 11 July 2017.


Thought I would share a couple of pics taken at that Change of Command ceremony in honor of this anniversary.  And it was the first one of these I’d ever attended in a hangar.

I’ve often said that one thing the Army does especially well is perform ceremonies, and this was no exception.  Well planned, well executed, many dignitaries including the US Ambassador to the Marshall Islands, Karen Stewart.

A standing-room-only crowd said farewell to COL Larsen and howdy hey to COL DeOre.


I did miss getting a pic of the cake before it got sworded and sliced, but its magnificence can still be perceived.  Quite a masterpiece according to Kwaj standards.


It was well after this event I discovered our new Commander and his wife had discovered this very blog while doing research on their new home.  Hello Sir!  Hi Ms. Debbie! *waves*

Glad I could be of help.


Note:  We were told that picture taking was allowed for the event, so no breaking OpSec here.  If I am, there are a couple of folks who I know will tell me.

10 July 2018 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , , , , | 3 Comments