U.S. Coast Guard Academy Cadets 1st Class Sophia Stafford and 1st Class Ashley Fuller from the Coast Guard Academy spent the six weeks of summer interning with the U.S. Army initiative, Task Force Oceania (now known as Operations in Pacific Island Countries), across the island of Oahu in Hawaii.
The ultimate effort of this internship is to assess the return on investment (ROI) of developing a joint training or education internship to help prepare next generation leaders for the climate change conflicts in Oceania. Through this internship, the cadets were required to provide direct support to units conducting real world operations and created unique experiential learning opportunities that may not be available to them within Academy and Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).
“This is actually the first year Coast Guard Academy cadets got to work with the Army,” said Stafford, “ So, this is actually a trailblazing experience, kind of learn as we go.”
The project they focused on producing and presenting at the end of their internship, was to be an interactive map overlay that provided a list of sources that could help identify the presence of Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated (IUU) fishing in the region.
“It (IUU) could either be when boats are doing trans shipments to illegally transfer fish somewhere to sell it, or catching fish out of season, or not meeting size regulations,” said Fuller, “It can even include not properly reporting if they accidentally caught fish in their nets.”
Stafford and Fuller also participated in a variety of tasks, interacted with regional experts engaged in the area, as well as studied and consolidated material on climate change and its impact on the Oceania region. Climate change plays a critical role in the national security of Oceania, as well as the United States.
In “Migration, Environment and Climate Change: Assessing the Evidence”, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) published that by the year 2050, there would be approximately 200 million climate refugees. In 2018 the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) disclosed that sometime between 2035 and 2065 the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) could lose their freshwater lens making the islands uninhabitable, islands that are home to nearly 60,000 people.
“Task Force Oceania has a lot of people on the ground in these islands in the Pacific, '' Stafford shared, “so if we weren’t actually able to go out there ourselves, let's go ahead and actually work with a team that has individuals that are out there.”
Investing in the island nations of Oceania is nothing short of an investment of the wellbeing of American allies. Preserving the conservation of the environment and ecosystems, could prevent the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people in the coming years and help maintain their sovereignty as independent nations.
“One of the purposes of TFO is to foster that trust and engagement in these regions,” said Stafford, “One of their main missions is to make sure they have positive engagements with the individuals in these islands and to build on that trust and understanding.”
It is beneficial to America to aid these nations in efficient and environmentally friendly ways to maintain and improve the industries that their economy depends on. A strong economy would greatly decrease the need and probability of a government's dependency on foreign and sometimes predatory assistance.
“When you start working with these countries and investing with them, you’re creating an opportunity for the next generation to be more self-sustaining,” said U.S. Army Reserve OPIC Strategic Planner Lt. Col. John Yoshimori, “That means you’re teaching them how to fish, and
not giving them a fish.”
“We have as a vision is to not just have U.S. Coast Guard cadets, but University of Hawaii ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) program,” said Yoshimori, “To potentially get other academies to provide their cadets, their environmental science and marine biology type majors.”
Expanding this opportunity with the Coast Guard Academy to other service academies and ROTC units, could help to lay the groundwork to generate awareness and education in future service members, creating an advantage for the U.S. in Oceania.
“We can start developing relationships and facilitating communication among the different branches,” Fuller stated, “That’s something we are trying to focus on right now with our map, trying to get all these different NGOs (Non-Government Organization), organizations, and military branches to start working with each other more.”
The cadets accompanied OPIC in talks with NGOs like Brigham Young University-Hawaii (BYU-Hawaii) in hopes of gaining their interest in a collective investment into a future internship that would be open to their student body as well. Much of BYU-Hawaii’s student body is made up of people from the island nations of Oceania.
“The benefit of having connections with BYU-Hawaii is that they have students who come from all the different islands of the Oceania region,” said Fuller, “They have already built their relationships of trust… It takes a lot longer for us in uniform to build those relationships and that trust.”
“Getting the next generation of scientists, of students, of military leaders, to understand what’s going on in this region,” said Stafford, “And be prepared with the tools they need to combat this problem.”