Yesterday, we updated a post about Johnston Atoll initially published in January this year with some quotes regarding the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Air Force.

Today, a detailed comment left by Lou, N2TU (team leader of K9W – Wake Island & co-leader K5P – Palmyra) enlightens us a bit more. It’s displayed in its entirety below, and we thank Lou for this insight:

The USAF has jurisdiction over Johnston and has banned all personnel, except USAF, USFWS and their volunteers. Johnston has a sad history. During the Cold War, not one but two missile tests failed and rained radioactive material on the atoll. Radioactive material was ‘cleaned’ by the Military and their contractors and dumped in the lagoon or on waste piles on the atoll. These waste piles were covered with layers of coral debris to mitigate the problem. They are still there.

Secondly, chemical warfare munitions were destroyed on the atoll (agent Orange and others). A large facility was built to accomplish this and hundreds of workers were assigned to the atoll. Some of them have attempted to claim disability due to exposure but have been met with heavy push-back from the Government and their contractors. The only remaining structure is the JOC (Joint Operations Center) and that is in disrepair though quite usable.

More recently, the atoll had been infested with “Crazy Yellow Ants”! Yes, that is the street name for anoplolepis gracilipes. (Look it up!) These ants are not indigenous on the atoll and USFWS was tasked to eradicate the CYAs. The CYAs excrete a very acidic substance which gets into the eyes of the sea birds causing them to lose their sight and therefore unable to forage. There have been multiple USFWS volunteer crews on the atoll. These crews live on the atoll, usually for 6 month intervals. They freely roam the atoll and have posted a few You Tube videos of the atoll. USFWS has done a remarkable job and the infestation seems to be at an end. That is some of the history…so now for the Amateur Radio part!

In an attempt to obtain landing permission, multiple proposals have been submitted to the USAF. Initially, the process appeared to be fast tracked. The USAF was aware of the very positive feedback we received after the Wake Atoll operation. For Johnston, the USAF was given a very contained ‘foot print’ of our operations. Our set-up would be self contained and restricted to wherever area USAF deemed safe and of short duration (2 weeks). We would be self financed, have appropriate medical personnel with us, and follow the same protocols as the USFWS volunteers for ingress and egress to the atoll. Additionally, we offered the USAF compensation for any USAF supervision required on the atoll. The Amateur Team individually signed a Waiver of Responsibility, which effectively eliminated any chance of legal action for any reason. The Waiver was a Department Of Defense (DoD) authored document which assured the US Government of complete isolation.

Progress moved ahead nicely until a single Colonel objected on the basis of potentially hazardous material being brought back to our point of embarkation(Hawaii) by personnel’s clothing and/ or other material. Any assurances given, such as we would follow the exact protocol as the dozens of USFWS personnel and further, we would be under the supervision of the USAF, fell on deaf ears.

Multiple re-submissions were sent to the good Colonel’s chain of command, up to and including the Secretary of the USAF in the Pentagon. All were summarily dismissed or simply unanswered. Literally, hundred of hours have been invested in the multiple iterations of an Operations Plan, Logistics Plan, soliciting personnel for the operation, attempting to get support from US Senator and Representatives (tough going!), issuing Freedom of Information applications, and on and on.

Quick side note. The FOIs, which were issued to obtain the true ‘why was the operation nixed’ were answered with mostly redacted information. The only information not blacked out was the title of the emails and some small chit chat! Further FOI requests asked for specific documents detailing the hazard potential expressed by the Colonel (There was dialog between the Colonel and other USAF departments). Again nothing of value was forwarded.

Summarized: Using the guise that hazardous material would be transported off the atoll is simply another way of saying it isn’t in their mission. Stating the atoll is unsafe seems disingenuous as literally hundreds of USFWS personnel have lived on the atoll for extended periods, roamed the atoll, dove and fished in the lagoon and even farmed vegetables in the soil. The USAF has a mission and that mission does not include Amateur Radio.

All hope is not lost. Sooner or later, the Johnston will be turned over from the USAF to the USFWS. The Pacific Region USFWS have been open to Amateur Radio operations as long as their terms are met. So if we live long enough, who knows!