KOROR, Republic of Palau. – (Oct. 9, 2021) With its calming waters slowly climbing and descending the warm sands of the island, Peleliu in the Republic of Palau, could be considered the ideal tropical paradise.
Its white sands, blue waters and dense vegetation cover the remnants of a war long past, but not forgotten with relics of battle covering the island from its highest forested point to its lowest reef. Yet, among these remnants lied a threat that has posed a risk to the people of Peleliu for more than 75 years – that was until the Marines of Task Force Koa Moana 21 arrived.
On Sept 23, 2021, Marines from Task Force Koa Moana 21 safely detonated 11 pieces of unexploded ordnance found across Peleliu in an effort to make the island safer for the approximately 700 people who call Peleliu home.
“Unexploded ordnance are weapon systems that are designed to kill,” said U.S. Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer 2 Tony Delmont, the explosive ordnance officer for Task Force Koa Moana 21. “It’s an unnecessary risk to have.”
To eliminate that risk and protect the people, property and environment of Peleliu, the Marines moved the ordnance to a safe location before detonating it. Permanently destroying the ordnance in this manner removes the threat of detonation. Destroying the ordnance in this way also protects the environment as the ordnance can leak chemicals over time that would endanger the unique ecosystem of Peleliu.
“Eventually, the metal containers will erode away, and that’s going to expose the high explosive material that are inside the devices,” explained Delmont. “That’s going to leak into the soil, leak into the waterways eventually.”
For the people of Peleliu, this poses a double threat to them as many people on Peleliu rely on the environment.
“We from Peleliu, our everyday lives, we depend on the environment,” said Shari Nicholas, chief of staff for the Office of the Governor of Peleliu State. “We get our food from the environment. Our local foods from the ocean and the land so leaving the bombs there just exposes our environment and our foods to the threat and the leakage.”
Seeing an opportunity to help, the Marines looked for a location where they could safely dispose of the ordnance while reducing the risk to the people of Peleliu and the environment that they cherish. A unique location was found that reduced the threat of the detonation.
After preparing the ordnance and placing military explosives, a silence fell over the group of Marines. In seconds, a thunderous blast from the detonation reverberated through the humid island air of Peleliu.
After 75 years, the threat from these 11 devices were gone. All that remained was the dust and dirt lingering in the air and the leftover remnants of sea mines and other ordnance that had plagued the people of Peleliu for nearly a century. This blast meant the island was now a safer place – something the Marines took pride in knowing.
“Conducting operations on Peleliu was a proud and humbling experience for the explosive ordnance section,” Delmont said. “It’s a direct reflection of the explosive ordnance disposal mission to protect personnel and property.
“This is actually what was in their beaches, in their back yard, in an area they have access to,” Delmont added. “Removing this ordnance gives them their home back, gives them their land back.”
While the blast took mere moments, it was a setup years in the making. In fact, it was Task Force Koa Moana 20 that found the ordnance.
“A lot of this was built on the back of Task Force Koa Moana 20,” Delmont said. “They found it all. We moved it and detonated it. This was a team effort between Koa Moanas.”
It was a team effort that paid off, especially for the people of Peleliu.
“We want to thank the Marines for helping us get closer to removing all of the explosive ordnance here in Peleliu,” said Nicholas. “We really appreciate the work that the Marines are doing to help the community.”
Task Force Koa Moana is designed to strengthen and enhance relationships between the U.S. and partner nations/states in the Indo-Pacific Region while remaining COVID-19 safe. The task force has the unique opportunity and privilege of working with the Republic of Palau as a sign of the U.S. commitment to the people of Palau and its partners and allies in the Indo-Pacific Region.