Intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear test ranges are not what most people think of when it comes to an island paradise, but the Marshall Islands are known for both.
This far-flung country in the Pacific Ocean has a population of 53,000 people spread across over 1,000 islands, but one of them, Kwajalein, is not like the others. The 1.2 square mile island is actually an American army base, and the US Army has a 99-year lease on it that will run until 2046.
So, how do I know about it?
I lived there for three years as a child, and my parents worked there for a total of seven. This article on how to get a job on Kwajalein has plenty of info from our own fond memories as well as current facts from Ronnie and Wendy, two Americans living and working on the base today.
Kwajalein has white sand beaches, year-round temperatures of 80 degrees, swaying palms and colorful coral reefs. If living in a remote tropical paradise located over 2,000 miles from Hawaii sounds appealing to you, it’s time to get a job on Kwajalein!
Yes, I know I’m adorable.
How to Get a Job on Kwajalein
I spoke to two current residents who filled me on what kind of jobs are available on the island and how you can land one.
Wendy has been there for years and told me there are positions for “engineers, teachers, electricians, carpenters, public works positions, airfield workers, almost any job you could find in small town USA.” Ronnie, a recent transplant to the island, also told me that at the moment construction personnel (his field of work) are needed as well. Additionally, the two listed more positions on the island like nurses, hair stylists, dining facility managers, cooks and MWR (Morale Welfare & Recreation) jobs like hobby shop lead and adult recreation.
There is one important thing to keep in mind, though: positions both in and out of the tech fields may require passing a security clearance before you get hired.
Where to Get a Job on Kwajalein
One of the biggest organizations on Kwajalein is DynCorp International, which bills themselves as “a leading global government solutions provider.” Because Kwajalein is an army base, much of the staffing, hiring, and day to day positions are contracted through one company, and right now, DynCorp has that job.
Kwajalein Range Services is another major player on the island. They provide “exceptional range engineering, logistics and base operations support to ensure effective missile defense for our country and the safety and well being of its citizens.” Kwajalein is incredibly valuable to the US because of the technical work in radar systems, missiles, and defense that’s done through this organization.
To browse open positions and get a job on Kwajalein, search with keyword “Kwajalein” on the DynCorp website or check the Careers page on the Kwajalein Range Service website. You can also join the KwajNet group on Facebook and visit their website to find a regularly updated list of open positions.
What Are Finances Like for Workers on Kwajalein?
Working on Kwajalein is all about the perks and every position comes with a generous financial package. First and foremost, when you get a job on Kwajalein you also get free housing. It’s not the best, but it’s not the worst either. Wendy compares the “bachelor’s quarters” to dorm living in college, while she describes the family homes as “cinder block houses – very functional and sturdy.”
Additionally, Wendy adds, “part of the benefits package is a certain number of trips, usually. One a year or one every other year.” If you’re worried about the expensive flights required to get to and from the Marshall Islands, don’t worry. You can go back to the States completely free.
Even better? Traveling to and from the US requires a layover in Hawaii… every time 🙂
Finally, what about taxes? There is no income tax if you’re there for 330 days but you still have to pay the Marshallese taxes (which, back in the 90’s, were about 5% ) and of course, everyone still pays into social security as well.
Quality of Healthcare and School Systems
Free housing and trips are great, but schools and healthcare are pretty important too.
The unfortunate reality is that healthcare on the island is minimal, which my family can attest to. When something is out of the doctor or hospital’s typical range of abilities, patients are sent on a flight to Hawaii to take care of it.
When my brother broke his arm as a child he had to fly first class to Hawaii for treatment. A year later, our family was uprooted again for a few weeks when my little brother’s birth was deemed too high risk for the island and we moved to Hawaii to await my mom’s due date there instead.
Schools are a little better, Wendy tells me, describing them as “small, but good.” In the elementary school, there is only one class per grade level.
What’s So Special About Life on Kwajalein?
I lived on Kwajalein from 1996 to 1999, when I was only 5 to 8 years old. Still, though, I remember many unique aspects of the Kwaj lifestyle that you just won’t experience anywhere else.
Life Without Cars
The island is so small that everyone simply rides their bikes anywhere they want to go. Even in kindergarten and first grade, I hopped on mine and rode it to school with the rest of my siblings. Just keep in mind that riding without a flashlight on your bike at night is against the law. If you get caught you’ll end up with a warning or even a fine.
If that commute isn’t unique enough for you, a job on the island of Roi-Namur, where programmers and engineers work on the all-important radar systems, will require a 20-minute flight to work every day. My dad did this for seven years and it became routine. Usually.
Once, the plane took off and an issue with the landing gear required immediate attention. The pilot flew up high in the air and then performed a steep nosedive in an attempt to lock the gear into place. The flight landed back on Kwajalein, lopsided, bouncing on one side of the wheels until it finally settled down on the runway and the workers disembarked.
Even though the airport lined up another flight to take them to Roi-Namur, my dad’s colleague had other ideas. “I only give you one chance to kill me a day,” he said. And with that, he went home.
Another memory from life on the island as a kid is watching SCUBA Santa swim up out of the ocean to bring us presents at the beach on Christmas, instead of visiting him at a mall.
Throughout the year, my mom would also wake us up to watch the missiles come in. These scheduled tests were launched from California and landed in the ocean around Kwajalein, coming in at night like bright shooting stars. Speaking of stars, the lack of light pollution that comes with living on a speck of rock in the vast Pacific Ocean meant that the view of them every night was breathtaking.
Of course, because Kwajalein is a US army base they must adapt, as best they can, to the US work schedule. The island timezone puts it 16 hours ahead of eastern US, so if you get a job on Kwajalein your weekends will be Sunday and Monday.
What do people do on an island this small?
The only restaurants on the island are Subway, Anthony’s Pizza, and Burger King. There are also two theaters (one indoor and one outdoor), but don’t expect to see the latest releases right away. Ronnie also told me there are two bars, one called The Snake Pit and a second on the golf course. But, most people spend their time on the beaches.
If you get a boating license, you can rent one and explore the nearby uninhabited islands or go diving on the coral reefs and sunken World War 2 ships that surround Kwajalein. You can also go deep sea fishing or try to spot dolphins, stingrays, barracudas, sharks, and even whales.
At the moment there are only around 1,000 people on the island, so community plays a huge role in the social lives of everyone there.
When my parents lived there for seven years, they’d regularly take part in some unique events, like the Rust Man, a triathlon and play on the famous Iron Man race. Another couple turned their house into a restaurant on weekends, taking reservations for one or two tables and then creating a home cooked meal for them. Every year we also went to the Shaving Cream Social, where we’d spray each other with shaving cream in the pool, or race to the bottom of the deep end where we’d struggle to bring greased up watermelons back to the surface.
What about sports?
The kids on the island were divided into two swim teams, and every meet throughout the season was the Sharks vs. the Barracudas. In basketball, soccer, and volleyball, the junior high and high school kids have no other choice but to compete against teams of adults on the island.
Difficult Aspects of Life on Kwajalein
For those that get a job on Kwajalein one of the most difficult aspects of life on the island is the isolation. The remote location means that it’s a seven-hour flight just to Hawaii, and then another long haul to get to the mainland US. While family and friends can visit, the paperwork required to secure permission and the prohibitive cost of flights makes it hard.
The convenience of life in the US is lacking there as well. There’s only one grocery store and my dad says, “they’d run out of milk or the good tuna. Produce was also dicey because they had to fly everything in.” When Diet Coke was invented it showed up on Kwajalein three months later and tasted terrible.
Residents found out later that when Diet Coke is stored too hot the sweetener turns into wood alcohol… which is poisonous.
Kwajalein may be high-tech in terms of missiles and defense, but that’s where it ends. “The internet is ok,” Ronnie told me. It’s fiber optic, so users typically don’t have too many problems. However, the island is still waiting for a cell phone tower and for now, most residents use wifi based calling only to reach home.
On Kwajalein, life is simple. Most events revolve around community groups and the beach. If you don’t like either of those, day to day life on the island will be tough to adapt to.
Are you ready to get a job on Kwajalein?
There’s a lot to consider before you take the plunge and get a job on Kwajalein. Island life can be romanticized and it isn’t for everyone.
However, if you’re looking to slow down, enjoy the great outdoors, or just have an adventure that few Americans get to experience, landing a job on Kwajalein may just be for you.
Use this guide to get started and soon you’ll be racking up major savings while you relax on a beach in paradise!
PS if you love remote places, learn how to get a job in Antarctica here! Or, browse the Working Abroad series to learn how to teach in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, discover the exciting world of work on luxury yachts and much more 🙂