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Task Force Koa Moana 23 strengthens South Pacific partnerships


About 200 United States Marines and Sailors visited three South Pacific nations from June through September 2023 to bolster relationships, enhance infrastructure and improve citizens’ lives. Task Force Koa Moana 23 deployed in detachments to the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Combat Logistics Battalion 11, part of the 1st Marine Logistics Group, conducted the mission led by Lt. Col. Robert Hillery. “Marines and Sailors with Task Force Koa Moana have gone above and beyond expectations during this deployment,” Hillery said in mid-August. “They have successfully completed multiple projects across all locations that will directly result in the improved health and safety of the local communities. They have also built meaningful relationships with the locals to enhance the relationships with our Pacific partners.”

The three island countries are vital U.S. partners in the South Pacific. In May 2023, negotiators reached terms of renewed Compact of Free Association agreements to provide U.S. economic and security assistance to Micronesia and Palau. The deals await U.S. Congressional approval. The U.S. and PNG also recently signed a defense cooperation agreement.

Comprised mostly of U.S. Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, Koa Moana 23 enhanced the island countries’ stability, security and prosperity. The first Koa Moana — which means “ocean warrior” — was in 2016.

In Micronesia’s Chuuk State, the task force renovated Chuuk High School, and restored roofs and grounds at Neano and Mwan elementary schools. In Pohnpei State, the team repaired long-range radio towers, collaborated on safety measures at an airport, shared knowledge with local medical personnel, and partnered with Red Cross workers and local firefighters on a blood drive. In Kosrae State, the task force renovated a hospital.

U.S. Marines restore a roof at Neano Elementary School in Chuuk State, Micronesia. IMAGE CREDIT: LANCE CPL. TRENT HENRY/U.S. MARINE CORPS

In Palau, the Koa Moana team improved roads and a firing range, participated in medical collaborations and attended community activities. The Island Times newspaper told readers not to worry if they spotted military planes — it was U.S. Marines on a goodwill mission.

In PNG, the task force conducted training and completed infrastructure projects such as enhancing PNG Defence Force Air Transport Wing facilities, including a live-fire range. U.S. Marines and Sailors shared expertise in engineering, medical care and infrastructure.

Task force members also commemorated the 81st anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal in Honiara, Solomon Islands. Hillery praised the bond between U.S. Marines and Solomon Islanders during the World War II campaign. “The sacrifices the Islanders made will never be forgotten,” he said at the August 7, 2023, event.

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