For the third year in a row I have celebrated Fourth of July as part of a Pacific Partnership mission, many hours before similar celebrations began in the United States. In fact, as I write this, the fireworks are probably just beginning over the Mall in Washington, D.C.
Pacific Partnership 2011 (PP11) is in the city of Kolonia, in the state of Pohnpei, in the independent country of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). The Caroline Islands (originally named Islas de Carolina for King Charles II of Spain in the late 1600s) emerged from the battles of World War II as a United Nations Trust Territory, administered by the United States. Two separate island groups within the Carolines, Palau and the FSM, later declared independence, with the FSM signing a Compact of Free Association with the United States in 1986 (amended in 2003), which defines U.S.-FSM relations today. Citizens of both countries can visit, live, and work in the other without visa restrictions, and FSM uses the American dollar and coinage as its official currency.
Since July 4 was a normal work day in the FSM, we held our official opening ceremony at 10 a.m. in the courtyard of the Pohnpei State Administration Complex. FSM President Emanuel Mori and Pohnpei Governor John Ehsa welcomed Pacific Partnership for its third visit and thanked the mission for including projects in all four states of FSM (Pohnpei, Kosrae, Chuuk and Yap). U.S. Ambassador Peter Prahar and PP11 Mission Commander Jesse Wilson reflected on our nations' close ties and expressed our appreciation to join with friends in FSM in celebration of the 235th anniversary of the United States of America.
At 2:00 p.m., the Fourth of July festivities began with softball games at the Spanish Wall Field near the middle of Kolonia, so named because the outfield wall is comprised of the original stone from a Spanish fortification built in the 1800s. This is not an outfield fence that encourages running or diving catches! (Given the way local batters were hitting, we talked about positioning PP11 outfielders on top of the ramparts.) In a large park just beyond the Spanish Wall, U.S. Embassy personnel grilled hot dogs (1,000 in total during the afternoon) and U.S. Peace Corps volunteers offered face-painting and bean-bag toss games for the kids.
The grand finale was the Pacific Fleet Band. Ambassador Prahar opened the concert with some thoughtful commentary on the attainment and preservation of freedom, and the band played "The Star Spangled Banner" and several patriotic pieces. Then Mass Communication Specialist First Class David Valdez offered brief commentary before each selection as the band provided stellar renditions of period pieces, including homage to Sinatra, Presley, Motown, James Brown, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Michael Jackson. Anton Dupreez, the voice of the band during PP11, did an exceptional job reprising some well-known vocals, and the multi-talented band members had the stadium rocking and a great many of the audience dancing all around the Spanish Wall. Although we couldn't find any pyrotechnical fireworks, the band created another memorable Pacific Partnership Fourth of July for all of us fortunate enough to serve.