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NEWS | Aug. 6, 2022

Pacific Allies Interns Address Climate Change in the RMI

By James Brantley, U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll

“We toured the island communities and spoke with the residents about what they consider to be the most pressing climate related challenges,” said Master Sgt. John Phillips, team leader for the two-person U.S. Army Pacific’s Oceania Engagement Team to U.S. Embassy Majuro. “The primary concern is drought and the depletion of freshwater reserves. Increasing capacity to produce, import, and store fresh water is a priority.”

Helping the people of the Republic of the Marshall Islands is what brought the students here.

“My biggest hope is to make connections with the people in the RMI and to learn about what is important to them,” said USCGA Cadet Alana Kickhoefer. “If you want to help people and find solutions to problems, the first step is figuring out what those problems really are. We cannot assume or guess what we think the major issues are.”

Kickhoefer, from Frisco, Texas, said she has been interested in climate change because “it affects our everyday lives and will have an even greater impact on the generations to come. For example, there are fires across the world right now as temperatures are at a record high in many areas. Events like this are only going to increase if we are not actively working to combat climate change. I am interested because I want future generations to have a better environmental situation on their hands than they are predicted to right now.”

Simon Weiss, a junior at Tufts University near Boston, said he became interested in climate change as a child growing up in Iowa.

“I distinctly remember being gifted a copy of ‘A Silent Spring’ from my parents when I was in elementary school. It was a really powerful introduction into the effects of environmental destruction, but also a good reminder that there are things you can do that will actually save the environment.”

Weiss said that he is interested in the effects that are felt here first and how they will become common throughout other coastal communities in the future. “By understanding how people work to address climate change, those lessons can be used to create better solutions in the world,” he added. “While obviously these issues are far bigger than this summer, this kind of work will continue to build as future interns continue the work we’re doing.”

Pacific Allies has been unable to send interns to the RMI for the past two years due to COVID-19 travel restrictions instituted by the RMI government, so this year is serving as a reboot to help them connect with local partners to further their work in the future.

Gregg Nakano, Pacific Allies coordinator in Hawaii said that his program, “is about preparing the next generation for the climate conflicts we’re leaving for them to solve.

“In the Marshall Islands, we’re trying to answer the question, ‘How do we help students, cadets and midshipmen understand the climate change impacts on national security by transforming Kwajalein Atoll into a living sustainability laboratory.”

Cadet Natalie Rodriguez, from Wellington, Florida said that she has seen firsthand effects of climate change and pollution growing up.

“I have helped with countless beach clean-ups, volunteered with my local sea turtle hospital, and have been an advocate for the Coral Restoration Foundation in the Florida Keys. I am always trying to help in educating others about the importance of taking care of our planet.”

Nakano’s hope is that the two cadets and one student gain an expanded understanding of the world and their place in it. “There are not enough opportunities for students to apply that knowledge in environments and with communities that question fundamental assumptions about what constitutes a ‘good life.’

“We hope Pacific Allies provides American students, cadets and midshipmen an opportunity to look at the world through Marshallese eyes and see things they never could imagine … and then find mutually beneficial ways to build a better future together,” said Nakano. “By creating a process for Marshallese youths to work with America’s next-generation leaders, we hope to build multi-generational partnerships that jointly conceptualize, design, implement and maintain climate adaptation, resilience, sustainability strategies in real time. Pacific Allies is our imperfect, unfunded initial first step in that process.”

Get to know the team

USCGA Cadet Alana Kickhoefer
Frisco, Texas

“I decided to attend the U.S. Coast Guard Academy because of the incredible opportunity it provides and to have the chance to make an impact on people’s lives.”

Kickhoefer is studying marine and environmental science with a concentration in oceanography and biology.

On her time in the Marshall Islands

“It has been absolutely wonderful. Everyone in the community has taken us under their wings to ensure we have the best experience possible and gone out of their way to help us learn and see new things. I also cannot thank Master Sgt. John Phillips and Staff Sgt. Gary Likiak enough for planning out most of our days to ensure that with our time here we are being the most effective we can be.

What role can she play as a Coastguardsman regarding climate change?

“Just as the Army has a responsibility to do their part in fighting climate change by “increasing capability and installations’ resiliency; prepare for new hazards and new environments; modernize processes, standards, and infrastructure; and decrease operational energy demand—all of which in turn will reduce greenhouse gas emissions” as outlined in the Army Climate Strategy, the Coast Guard must do the same. As an individual, I can advocate for cleaner methods and processes. It is going to take innovation and a lot of creative thinking to come up with these new ideas but there are a lot of smart people in the Coast Guard who care about the environment, and ensuring we are listening will go a long way.”

Simon Weiss
Tufts University

Originally from Iowa, Weiss is a junior at Tufts University near Boston, studying international relations with a language focus in Chinese and a minor in cultural anthropology.

“My generation is going to be experiencing the effects of climate change in ways that no one else has before and I hope that we can pass a better world on to the next generation than the one I was raised in.”

What role can he play regarding climate change?

“I’m not sure any of us knows for certain how we will change the world, but I want to find ways to help people work together on challenging issues, even when interests don’t align. I think learning to tackle these challenges through cooperation will be valuable in all aspects of what I might do.”

USCGA Cadet Natalie Rodriguez
Wellington, Florida

“I was recruited to play softball at the Academy but I decided to attend because I wanted a career in saving lives and helping people. They also have a top-level marine science program which was perfect because I wanted to dedicate my studies to marine life.”

What role can she play as a Coastguardsman regarding climate change?

“I can work to educate others of the importance of combatting climate change. I can help to convince those around me in the service to change their lifestyle to be more eco-friendly. I can advocate for service-wide change to allow for less pollution from our members and assets. Lastly, I can ensure the fight against climate change is maintained as a major threat and should be treated as such within our missions.”