Veterans of Micronesia: Serving abroad, limited benefits at home

Thanks to the Compact of Free Association with Uncle Sam our young men and women have options.  One of those options is to join the US Armed Forces.  Great option, great opportunity.

Since 1986 or 1987 recruiters have been promoted off the raised hands of our young men and women.  We have kept the recruiters from Guam, especially the Army, well above their recruiting quotas… You’re welcome 🙂

No sweat though, we volunteered.  We wanted to serve, see the world, and have fun getting paid doing it.  The US military is the greatest military this world has ever known.  To be a part of something like that is exceptional.  The sort of thing you tell your kids and grand kids about.  Something to be proud of.

So, one of things that has been knocked around recently is what goes on after we get out.  Access to health benefits is one of the big ones.  Nathan Fitch who directed the documentary film Island Soldier had this to say about Micronesian Veterans who live in Micronesia:

“It’s hard for veterans in the U.S. mainland. It’s hard for veterans in Hawai’i. But I think this is an invisible population in a lot of ways that doesn’t have a voice,” 

Truer words have not been spoken, except by Jesus of course.

I know, we volunteered and knew that when we returned home that there wasn’t a VA center in FSM, RMI or Palau.  We chose to join and we chose to return.

It’s a complicated situation and one where most Veterans know we are between a rock and a hard place.  We’ve been in these situations before, many of us, and we have learned through training, failure, sweat, pain and blood that there is no situation we can not adapt to or overcome.  Adapt or overcome.  Unless you were in the Air Force… joking 🙂

Seriously though, I’ve spoken with many Veterans in the FSM who are just frustrated about this situation.  Could this possibly be something brought to the table of the 2023 negotiations?  Can our local veteran organizations unite under ONE FSM veteran organization to tackle this issue?  Can our Ambassador to the US work with Guam, Hawaii and CNMI’s representatives in Congress to press this issue?  I’m just asking questions. There is an answer out there.

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While we are on this issue, might as well bring up the fact that we can’t apply for (because they won’t accept) VA Home Loans in Micronesia.  This is another one of those things that frustrates many of my Vet brothers and sisters.  Wouldn’t lending money to veterans – who are mostly employed or have pensions/benefits- to build homes (creating jobs) help the economy?  I’d take that over the health benefits.

I guess this is the aftermath of service to the greatest nation in the world.  I know solutions can happen but making them happen is like eating a soup sandwich.  You can never get it done, the soup and the sandwich don’t cooperate.  Until you think outside of the box and eat the soup first then sandwich or vice versa and tell yourself it was a soup and a sandwich… get it? Never mind, I’m thinking of the forward mess decks on my first ship.

On the whole I believe we were given (through the COFA) a great opportunity.  We served in the greatest military force ever.  We learned so many valuable lessons.  Let me encourage all Micronesian Veterans to serve this country like you served the US, “with full measure of devotion to these, our native lands”.  Carry on.

 

 

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FSM did well :)

I read one of the most interesting articles from Kuam news the other day, it was titled Underwood: FSM did well with Compact of Free Association and I really enjoyed reading it.

What a shocker of a headline. Former Guam US Congressman and present University of Guam President Robert Underwood gave FSM a compliment. That is so nice.  Si yuus Maase Mr. President.  Here’s my favorite part:

“So if you look at the trajectory of political status development, at one point in time in the 60’s it looked like the trust territories, the Pacific islands, were way behind and Guam was a lot closer and had a great deal with the US and then over time everybody just kind of leapfrogged along, and Guam is still essentially in the same situation it was in the 60’s,” he explained.

I never thought I’d hear someone from the upper levels of government in Guam admit that we, FSM, did anything better than Guam.  Most of the time Micronesians in Guam are portrayed as poor, uneducated, dependent on welfare, thieves, rapists, murderers, etc… you get my point.  It has gotten to the point in Guam where some Micronesians try their best not to be known as Micronesians! Weird huh?

Now, it seems after all these years FSM got it right.  Time truly does tell all.  Slow and steady wins the race.  The turtle beat the hare.  Patience is a virtue.  I can go on and on, but again you get my point.  Did our founding fathers have more wisdom and virtue than we have ever given them? Did they make the right choices only to see their own people think they screwed them and left the country for greener pastures and higher paying (US minimum wage) jobs? Or did we as a people just not have the patience to work on what we have here and now, to use all of our resources to our advantage?

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The FSM is part of the PNA (Parties to the Nauru Agreement)  a group of Pacific Island nations that control the world’s largest sustainable tuna purse seine fishery.  Our young citizens, although not US citizens are able to join the mightiest, most technologically advanced military the world has ever known and have been trained in the finest traditions of leadership and organization.  They can also get paid to go to a US accredited 2 year college in FSM before heading out to the US (with no immigration restrictions) OR apply for a full scholarship from Japan, Australia or China where going to medical,law or engineering school is not as competitive as in the US.  Pohnpei is one of the wettest spots on Earth and is legendary for being so fertile that anything can grow in the soil.  Chuuk has one of the best if not the best wreck diving sites in the world.  Yap is fast becoming a tourist attraction with her clean streets and traditional practices.  Kosrae – we’ll let the movie, Island Soldier, tell this powerful story.

What can we do with this? Other people have done more with less.  Look at Israel.  Look at Singapore.  Look at FSM again.

The book of Isiah says the people perish when there is no vision.  We haven’t perished yet.  Our vision was set forth in the Compact of Free Association and allowed us to negotiate (first compact), re-negotiate(2nd compact) and negotiate again (2023).  This strategy has allowed us as a country to slowly but surely grow up.

We are still a young nation, compared to most, but this is our advantage. We are surrounded by the great Pacific Ocean, another advantage.  We have others who are on a similar journey (RMI and Palau), yet another advantage. Our location, our greatest advantage has the Kwaj missile range to our east, USA’s Fortress Pacific to the northwest, and new radar towers – another US military installation – in Palau to our west.  Our location also saved us from the destructive island-hopping campaigns in world war II.  The attack on Chuuk (Operation Hailstone)   was an air and surface attack and not a ground attack.

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So, in the end, we have options.  We’ve always had options.  Our Founding Fathers made sure of that with the Compact.  Let me leave with another quote from that wonderful article from Guam about FSM (Thanks again President Underwood):

Underwood says he believes the US will strike a new deal with the FSM before the Compact expires in a few years.  That’s because China is already making overtures, and building relationships with the federated states that the US cannot ignore, noting, “It’s crucial to maintain a friendly partnership with the Federated States of Micronesia, because that’s a big hole in the middle of the ocean to manage.”

AMEN.

 

Modern Micronesian History

As a follow up to my previous post here, I would like to share a little bit of modern Micronesian history today.

Most of us understand that the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is made up of the 4 islands of Pohnpei, Chuuk, Yap and Kosrae.  Previously the FSM along with Republic of Palau, Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands made up the US administered UN Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI).

In 1986 the FSM came into existence (November 3 for reference).  Our first President, Tosiwo Nakayama, was from Chuuk specifically the island of Ulul.  The story of Tosiwo Nakayama is really the story of our transition from the Japanese to the Americans (through a world war) and then finding our way to sovereignty as the FSM.

Born in 1931, Tosiwo Nakayama’s mother was from Ulul and his father a Japanese who worked for a Japanese trading firm in the islands. After the war, his Father had to leave his family in Chuuk behind and return to Japan.  He would not see his Father again for many years.

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With the arrival of the Americans came schools. The Japanese had brought schools to the islands, but not all children attended and it was only for a limited time.  With the new Masters this was different.  Tosiwo attended Truk intermediate, the Pacific Islands Central School before winning a TTPI scholarship to attend the University of Hawaii.  Never before had education been so available in Micronesia. Never before had Micronesians been able to attend formal schools into University abroad.  Tosiwo Nakayama was among the first Micronesians to do this.

When Tosiwo returned he was without a doubt one of the most educated people in his family and even the then-district of Truk. Naturally, he worked for the American administration in government.  Later, he became involved in politics winning elections to the House of Delegates of the Congress of Micronesia, then as Senate President of the Congress of Micronesia.  Through it all, he gained a reputation as a humble, thoughtful and committed leader.  He was so respected by his colleagues that they elected him as the first President of the FSM.  He was re-elected for a second term.

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But beyond the political story, there is another story that shows the type of world Tosiwo came into and overcame.  Remember his Father had been a Japanese trader and was sent back to Japan at the end of the war.

On one his trips to the UN pressing our sovereignty case to the world, Tosiwo stopped in Japan.  He was looking for his Father.  He had been writing to him and now he had the chance to look for him in between building a nation and raising a family.

I’m not sure how the story exactly goes, but he finally ended up in a police station and with his limited Japanese explained to the policeman who he was and who he was looking for.  He was told his Father lived nearby and went to see him.

He found his Father and relatives that day, who celebrated the arrival of their “Son from the South Seas”.  His Father told Tosiwo that he wanted to come home and be buried in Chuuk.  Tosiwo was able to bring his Father home where he spent the rest of his days, the once Japanese trader deported by the Americans, whose son became the first FSM President.

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Read more about Tosiwo Nakayama and the early days of the FSM:

Making Micronesia: A Political Biography of Tosiwo Nakayama

Making Micronesia: A Political Biography of Tosiwo Nakayama by [Hanlon, David]

 

The Edge of Paradise: America in Micronesia

 

 

 

 

FSM Independence Day 2017

What did you do on FSM’s 31st Independence Day? Don’t worry….. if your answer is nothing, then you observed (or didn’t) this Holiday like the majority of people in the FSM.  There were no parades or speeches that I was aware of.  Please let me know if there were Independence Day celebrations in the FSM on 3 November 2017.

I know in Guam they had a pretty big celebration down at Ypao beach.  The FSM Community celebration brought out a crowd and even Lt Governor Tenorio had some very kind words to say about the FSM community:

Hafa Adai, I’m Ray Tenorio, lieutenant governor of Guam.

 I want to congratulate the Federated States of Micronesia and all the people who come from that fantastic country. You bring your culture and your traditions, and of course, we hope that you enjoy the American prosperity and the opportunities that it brings.
  

Your country is at 30 years of independence, and of course, we welcome your brothers and sisters to Guam as you pursue the opportunities and dreams you want for your children and your families.

Si Yu’us Ma’ase and thank you very much.

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Thank you, Lt Governor Tenorio, for such kind words.  It’s good to see that our FSM community in Guam is united and recognized.

I wonder if there were any other Independence Day celebrations in any of the FSM states or any of the US states with FSM communities?

What I do know, is that there were no celebrations in the capital that were publicized/shared/announced.  I checked the FSM Pio’s website at FSMPIO.FM and there were no announcements.  I checked Pohnpei State Government’s website to see if there were any announcements, none.  I even called the President’s office the week of the holiday and got no information either.

We should be celebrating this holiday.  Why? Because it is OUR history.  How many of our school children know who the first FSM President was?  How many of them know who the first US President was?  Your guess is probably the same as mine.  Our pride and awareness of who we are is rooted in knowing where we came from.  Celebrating key dates in our nation’s history…. if not THE key date is part of that pride and awareness.

Well, I guess we’ll just have to wait for next year.

 

 

Plea$e pay fir$t

Imagine this…. It’s late at night and a family member shakes you awake.  A member of your family (cousin, brother, father, mother, etc) has a medical emergency and they have called for the ambulance.  In fact, the ambulance is waiting on the road.  What gives?  They need $10.00 before they can transport this emergency to the hospital!! They ran over to your house and woke you up because they needed some help to pay the ambulance.  You live about 50 feet away (how much time did that take?).

Well, you don’t have to imagine this any more.  It’s happening now.  Yes, I just found out and have confirmed that emergencies that use the ambulance will now be charged $10.00.  Please pay before you go to the Emergency Room.

I don’t know exactly why this is so, only that it is.  So, I won’t jump to conclusions and point fingers at anyone.  Our healthcare workers have enough to worry about just doing their jobs.  But, it sounds very weird, very out of place to hear that when you need emergency services, you have to pay.  I understand and completely agree with paying for my doctor’s visit, medication and any and all hospitalizations.  Running a hospital takes a lot of money, running a hospital well takes a crap load of money.  The hospital has a lot of unsung heroes and I’ll be the first to salute them.

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I know that a lot of people don’t pay for the services that they are rendered, leaving the hospital with a lot of unpaid debt by patients.  That is sad.  Money makes the machine…. “and when the machine breaks down… we break down”.  That’s a line from the movie “Platoon” (off the subject, sorry)

I have some suggestions for the hospital though…. I’ve only worked in the Medical field for 14 years while serving in the US Navy so, for what that’s worth, here are my 2 cents:

  • Keep the ambulance service free of charge…. and charge EVERYWHERE else
  • Who answers the phone when people call the emergency line?  Is there a set number of questions to ask? Or is it just where are you? Next to which house?… Basically, what is the protocol for answering the emergency line?
  • Triage can be done over the phone
  • Education (on cost) can be done over the phone
  • Outsource ambulance services
  • Keep the ambulance service free of charge… and charge EVERYWHERE else

These are just a few suggestions.

Pohnpei State Hospital, you guys do a great job with what is provided you.  Please continue to serve our people with the pride and professionalism that you have always shown.

 

 

Information sharing in Micronesia

If you haven’t read the newsletter from Pohnpei State’s Department of Education, the Peluhs, I highly recommend you do so.  This is one of the steps we need to take as a nation to propel us forward.  Communicate.  I would really like to see the leadership of the nation tell us what they’re going to do, do it, and then tell us what they did.

If you look over at Pohnpei State Government’s website they seem to be doing a fair job of updating the people on what is going on at the state level.  They have even updated their job postings for September 2017.  Congrats! It’s not easy updating a website, coming up with content, etc.

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I would especially like to know what’s going on up here ^.  The public information website is updated every now and then. But, I really don’t know what’s going on at our nation’s capital and if I was to rely on their information sharing services, I would be left feeling unsatisfied.  Like paying $10.00 at a sakau market and coming home full,  not drunk and out $10.00!

I really do applaud the kpress for what they do to keep us updated.  Bill, you’re doing a great job.

We are in the information age… the internet is here, wi-fi is even free in some areas thanks to generous contributions from our leaders.  The submarine cable is laying fibre optic cable down for faster speeds.  We are there already 🙂

I encourage my fellow citizens to write, speak, share and let the rest of the nation know what is going on.  If you work in the government, please share.  Not just at the market or in private messages… share with your fellow citizens.  We have the means, let us exercise our will.

Security concerns for Micronesian/Pacific region discussed

I read an article today about the 48th Pacific Islands Forum(PIF) being held down in Apia, Samoa this week.  If you were here in Pohnpei last year for the forum, you may remember it as a time of motorcades and (for students) no school!

Our own FSM President Christian will be handing over the PIF chairship to Samoa’s PM for the next year.  On that note, I’d like to take this time to congratulate President Christian on a very successful year as PIFS Chair.  The Chair is rotated every year and the hosting country is the chair for that year.  So Talofa Samoa!

Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr will not be attending this year.  According to a PACNEWS article, he will be in Japan:

The recent threat by North Korea to launch four intermediate ballistic missiles near Guam and U.S plans to install radar in the Pacific nation highlighted Palau’s strategic military value in the region.
 
President Remengesau is traveling to Japan to discuss security issues with the U.S allies on the looming threats posed by North Korea.  
 
Instead, his Vice President Raynold Oilouch is representing Palau at the Forum Leaders Meeting.”

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That’s  pretty interesting.

Meanwhile, that same issue is  stealing the focus  of the Pacific Island Forum down in Samoa:

“Forum Secretary-General Meg Taylor said security issues were first raised during the recent meeting of Forum Foreign Ministers in August, amid the threat of North Korea to Guam, which is also seen as a threat to the wider Pacific region.

  “As a regional grouping I think we are ill prepared and we can’t  be prepared because we haven’t got the resources or the means of militarization,” Taylor told reporters.

 Taylor, however, said the bigger countries, which are members of the forum, are monitoring the situation very closely.

Palau and U.S. are in discussions of a radar system installation in the island nation given the North Korea threats in Guam.”

If you look at this like we are small island nations and are at the mercy to world events, then it’s scary.  But, looking at it as a Blue continent with several island nations united that takes a different look altogether.  I really believe that we are living in amazing times.  One President in the Micronesian region is discussing security issues with the US, another is handing over responsibilities for his regional chair.  We may be small and not have much, but united we are strong.  Amazing times we’re living in friends…. Let’s make the most of it.

US – Palau propose Radar towers to monitor air and maritime traffic

It’s no secret that the region we live in is a strategic location.  One world war has already been fought in this area on islands that will forever live in the history books.  Micronesian places with names like Guam, Saipan, Peleliu, Tarawa and Truk Lagoon were bloody battlefields before they became tourist attractions.

We have forfeited control of our air and water to the US (Not that we could guard or defend this vast area ourselves) forever in exchange for many things including financial assistance, defense, immigration benefits, etc.  Fair trade?

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Recently, the US and ROP governments ” met to discuss the technical requirements of the proposed Air and Maritime Domain Awareness Radar Systems (the “ADA” and “MDA,” respectively). The United States Department of Defense proposes to install the radar systems, which include air and maritime domain awareness radar towers arrayed at sites along the Palauan archipelago, to monitor air and maritime traffic in the vicinity of Palau.”

The ROP only received the proposals for these towers last month and they have moved fast to get these towers up and running:

On August 17, 2017, the two technical teams met at the working level to discuss these issues more in depth. As a result of all of these meetings, representatives of the Republic of Palau and the United States have narrowed down the scope of the necessary remaining details, which, due to their sensitive nature cannot be disclosed at this time.”

Source: https://www.facebook.com/PalauPresident/

I like the way that ends… “sensitive nature”.  I am almost certain it has benefits to all parties concerned.  Imagine the job opportunities this will bring to Palauans.

So what’s my point?  Radar towers to the west, major US Air Force base and soon to be Marine Corps base to the north east and Missle Defense Facility to east. How does that make you feel? Safe? Warm and fuzzy?  Now, imagine placing a huge Chinese resort in the middle of all this?(that’s another story)

Whether we admit it, resent it or just don’t give a crap.. we are, have been and most likely always will be a strategic location.  Our God-given geographical location is both a blessing and a curse. You decide which one.

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Micronesian President’s Summit – Continued….

Big thank you to the FSM Public Information Office for providing a press release dated 15 August 2017, on the 1 – 2 August 2017 Micronesian President’s Summit in Palikir. The press release called the Summit a continuation of the 17th Micronesian President’s Summit (MPS) in Guam back in May of this year.

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The FSM PIO press release confirmed that President Hilda Heine did not attend this summit, instead, Foreign Minister John Silk was here representing her and the RMI.  Either way, leadership from the three countries were here discussing important regional issues (that we should be aware of).

So what were the issues discussed? Here is the joint communique for your reading pleasure.  I’ll just address a couple of the issues here:

  • Labor and Immigration Harmonization – The FSM and ROP  were requested to support and harmonize their immigration laws.  Only RMI currently is exempting citizens of the FSM and ROP from labor and immigration requirements.  There was a “deep concern on the lack of reciprocity”
  • Air Space Management – Apparently the US is considering privatizing its air traffic services?  The three countries have been approached in the past by other nations willing to provide air traffic services with revenue sharing options… sound$ good to me :).  That will be something to look forward to for the next summit.
  • Micronesian Regional Vocational Center – This is very interesting since PATS closed down in 2005 we have had no technical / trade school for the region.  In the past, Micronesians who go to Guam for vocational training don’t usually return because they can make a better salary/living with their technical skills abroad.

These are just three issues out of the many issues that were discussed.  I would highly encourage FSM, ROP and RMI citizens to look at the communique and ask questions.  Our leaders are meeting, have been meeting and will be meeting on our behalf, and on our dime.  So, let’s stay informed and curious.

 

Strategic location – Micronesia

We in Micronesia should really thank Kim Jong Un.  Every time he threatens Guam, our location becomes that more strategic.  And yes, I know it is scary to be placed in harm’s way like this.  But who has got our back militarily? The US Armed Forces.  Thanks to the Compact of Free Association with the US, we are in good military hands.

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Besides, the US has bases in Japan, and of course, Guam itself is Fortress Pacific.  Over to the east of us, lies the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Site also known by the Marshallese people as Kwajelein.  Their specialty is missile defense.

We are not the only ones benefitting from this “North Korean” crisis.  Earlier, US President Trump told Governor Calvo of Guam this:

“I have to tell you, you have become extremely famous all over the world.  They are talking about Guam, and they’re talking about you.” And when it comes to tourism, he added, “I can say this: You’re going to go up, like tenfold with the expenditure of no money”

It is truly great to see that Trump is looking at the positive benefit of this situation because of course, he has the full weight of the US Armed Forces behind him.  Just like we do.  So, let’s be calm and eat our spam, rice, breadfruit and drink our sakau.  What could we really do anyways?  Strike back? Leave?  We will weather this storm as we have all storms, invaders, foreigners etc to our beautiful shores.