From: LtCol Thomas Stona, Task Force Koa Moana 20 Commanding Officer

Over the past two months, I have had the distinct pleasure of commanding this year’s rotation of Koa Moana Marines and Sailors in beautiful Palau. My Marines and Sailors benefitted from this deployment by refining their technical skills, gaining experience and learning about Palau’s history and culture. But more importantly, this evolution strengthened this important relationship between our two countries. A stronger Palau-U.S. relationship means a safer, more secure Pacific in the years to come.

This year’s Koa Moana took place under very complex conditions due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. I want to thank you for placing your trust in us and our medical professionals on the Task Force. We worked closely with Palau’s Ministry of Health to ensure the task force prioritized public health and safety, while allowing us to accomplish our mission. Our careful and strict observation of COVID-19 mitigation measures ensured that my task force completed our mission and maintained our commitment to the Compact of Free Association while keeping Palau one of the very few COVID-free countries on earth. You trusted that we could conduct ourselves as competent professionals — I hope you feel that trust was well-placed.

By all measures, this was a highly successful deployment and our Marines and Sailors worked around the clock. Our Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams surveyed local beaches, waterways, and inland areas in order to locate unexploded ordnance. Using cutting edge technology, they assessed risks and worked with the National Safety Office to address potential dangers in the water and ashore. Marine engineers built new living quarters for Peleliu’s medical providers. This climate-controlled house will provide staff with shelter, storage space and a place to carry out their work in relative comfort right next to the Peleliu Medical Dispensary. They also worked with the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Palauan workers to expand the airfield on Angaur, giving Palau a second viable runway in case of a natural disaster. Our  Navy Medical professionals participated in many small group discussions, training sessions and drills  with medical providers from Palau’s Ministry of Health and National Hospital. Our law enforcement specialists partnered with Palauan officers during a subject matter expert exchange, which also featured live-fire marksmanship training. These interactions set us both up for success should we ever face a future crisis or disaster together. Together we will be ready.

I’ve seen and done a lot during my 17 years as a Marine. Koa Moana 20 will occupy a special place in my heart for a long time to come. My Marines and Sailors talked endlessly of the hospitality and friendliness they received while working alongside our Palauan partners. A highlight was spending time with High Chief Reklai from Melekeok, a retired United States Marine. We were entertained by his stories of his time in the Marine Corps, and he taught us more about the close ties between Palau and the United States. We were honored that High Chief Reklai, the President of Palau and other special guests toured our temporary home, the USNS City of Bismarck, led by our civilian mariner crew. We are grateful to have friends and partners like those we have in Palau. Because of our close cooperation, the Pacific is safer, freer and more secure. Meral ma sulang! Until we cross paths again, I remain always faithful.

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