A 12-year journey home

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Petty Officer 2nd Class Kensley Raigeluw and his father Lorenzo reunite. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Tobosa.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Kensley Raigeluw and his father Lorenzo reunite. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Tobosa.

Located 430 miles south of Guam in the Western Pacific Ocean, is a small, coral atoll made up of 22 islands called Woleai. Part of the Federated States of Micronesia, the atoll’s inhabitants are isolated from the rest of the world with their only means of communication being a VHF radio.

Woleai is a unique place in the world; everything on the atoll is communal and there are different clans, each with their own chief. Above each clan chief are three paramount chiefs that rule the island. While Woleai Atoll is a place many of us have never heard of, or will likely never visit in our lives, there are approximately 1,000 people who proudly call the atoll “home.” Petty Officer 2nd Class Kensley Raigeluw is one of these people.

Raigeluw is currently stationed aboard Coast Guard Cutter Jarvis, a high-endurance cutter that routinely deploys to the Pacific – from Russia to Panama and everywhere in between. While the crew travels great distances, they were recently able to take a brief departure from their primary mission to reunite Raigeluw with his native soil. It was the first time Raigeluw visited home in 12 years.

It’s hard to imagine a young boy growing up in such an isolated environment finding his way into the U.S. Coast Guard. But Raigeluw’s journey started with a chance encounter when he was just eight and Coast Guard Cutter Basswood came to the atoll.

Coast Guard Cutter Jarvis' small boats offload supplies for Woleai Atoll. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Tobosa.
Coast Guard Cutter Jarvis’ small boats offload supplies for Woleai Atoll. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Tobosa.

“I still remember watching their small boat driving up to our beach and my whole community having a party for their crew,” recalled Raigeluw. “They took me on a tour of their ship and all I can remember is thinking that it would be so cool to be one of them, sailing around the world.”

While more than a decade has passed since he has returned, he has strong memories growing up in Woleai, where people live off the land and ocean.

“One of my fondest memories growing up was sitting on the beach in the evening with my father and uncles and learning celestial navigation,” said Raigeluw. “To this day the people of my island learn to navigate by the stars.”

Raigeluw left Woleai in 2000 to attend college in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, followed by the University of Hawaii in Hilo, Hawaii. He earned this opportunity by being one of two people from his island who achieved high enough scores on a college aptitude exam.

Years later, in September 2005, Raigeluw was looking into joining the Army, but happened to see a Coast Guard banner online. It immediately reminded him of the Basswood and he made the decision to join the Coast Guard.

After college he enlisted in the Coast Guard, attending boot camp in Cape May, New Jersey – 9,000 miles away from his native atoll. After graduating from boot camp, he was assigned to Station Rio Vista, Calif., and now Jarvis, bringing him back full circle to the place where he was born.

Anchored offshore, Jarvis’ crew launched both their small boats loaded with donations of canned foods, medical supplies and gifts. When asked what emotions he felt being home after 12 years, with his crew besides him, Raigeluw could only recall one – happiness.

“The day when my ship sailed to Woleai was one of the best days of my life. It is hard to explain how overwhelmed I was with happiness,” said Raigeluw.

“When we arrived on shore I realized most of my uncles were starring at us from beyond the beach and had no clue who I was, especially because I was in my uniform,” recalled Raigeluw. “I had to walk closer to them before they recognized me.”

When word got out one of their own was there, the whole village came out to greet him.

Crewmembers from Coast Guard Cutter Jarvis visit the inside of the men's hut at Woleai Atoll. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Tobosa.
Crewmembers from Coast Guard Cutter Jarvis visit the inside of the men’s hut at Woleai Atoll. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Tobosa.

“The feeling of seeing Petty Officer Raigeluw reunited with his family after so many years cannot be put into words,” said Capt. Webster Balding, commanding officer of Jarvis. “It’s one of those things in life that just really makes you appreciate your family, our maritime service and our nation. I believe my heart grew today, definitely a once in a lifetime experience.”

The visit lasted just hours as the cutter had to get back to the mission at hand. But before departing, Raigeluw presented a gift to his family – a photo album containing pictures of his wife and two sons, whom his parents have never met.

While the visit was short lived, Raigeluw will hold onto the memory of his homecoming forever, adding the experience to his already unique perspectives from growing up on Woleai Atoll.

While Raigeluw may have come from a far away place, who he is and what he stands for is something we can all identify with.

“My family has been seafarers for generations; they have sailed all throughout Oceania. Going to sea is in my nature and fits well with my service in the Coast Guard,” said Raigeluw. “In my upbringing, my parents instilled the importance of service to others. I take to heart the Coast Guard’s core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty.”

Capt. Webster Balding, commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Jarvis, stands beside Petty Officer 2nd Class Kensley Raigeluw (right), and Lorenzo, Raigeluw's father (center). U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Tobosa.
Capt. Webster Balding, commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Jarvis, stands beside Petty Officer 2nd Class Kensley Raigeluw (right), and Lorenzo, Raigeluw’s father (center). U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Tobosa.

37 comments on “A 12-year journey home”

  1. What a lovely story 🙂 I, myself, have never heard of the island. Must look it up!

  2. Kensley,  Wonderful story about you, the Coast Guard, and your family.  I joined the Coast Guard while living in Honolulu in 1976 and served from 1977 -1988.   Serve others, devotion to duty and be a good steward to the oceans…

  3. Great story. I cannot imagine being so far away from home and family but this young man has done something that he and his family can be proud of for the rest of their lives. Good on you.

  4. What a wonderful story.. Congratulations to this
    great young man!  I bet his family was so happy
    to see him!!  Bravo Zulu!

  5. Going home! Yeah! Also reminded by my own experience after recruitment into the CG at Sangley Point, Cavite, Philippines in1968. After two years, I was onboard CGC Sherman on our way to the war zone(Vietnam) and as we traverse San Bernardino Straits as we entered Philippine waters, most of us Filipino crew lined up along the starboard side, watch and talked about the huge island we’re facing and kinda raised my voice saying: “that’s my home and so near!”….not knowing, our XO(Cdr. J. Maloney) had been standing behind us, intervened and handed me a life-preserver and assigned a couple of seamen and said: “Watch Manny like a hawk…he might make a run HOME!” or swim, in that case. 😀 😀 We did eight months at the War Zone and prior to returning to ConUS, Each & every Filipino serving onboard, finally had the chance to spend at least four weeks vacation with our families in the province(s). Home Sweet Home! Yeay! Made CG a career and retired as AEC in 1991.

  6. Great story!!  I was on the CGC Basswood in 1993 when it anchored off Woleai and we went ashore there.  I remember bringing steaks and ice cream ashore for the locals, and the locals bringing the crew lobsters…..great times!  If there’s a way for me to post photos from the port call here I would. 

    1.  Ronny, If you post to your Facebook, please link to Lisa and Ken’s FB.  I am a friend of theirs and would sure love to see  your pictures.  Thanks, Wendy M.

  7. I’m from Pohnpei and was one of the first to join the Coast Guard from the Federated States of Micronesia. I was on the Basswood when we visited Woleai and the other islands in Chuuk and Yap. People were so nice to me. They knew how much I missed eating island food that they kept bringing me breadfruit and fish. I will forever be grateful for their generosity and the fact that I had the chance to represent the Coast Guard in FSM. Semper Paratus!

  8. Amazing! I’m so proud to call BM2 Raigeluw my husband! I hope I’ll be able to visit there one day and meet his parents and my children’s grandparents. Thank you Jarvis, for allowing my husband the opportunity to go home!

  9. A heartwarming story.  Awesome pix.  Makes one proud to be part of the good side of this government.  For all the GSA and USSS transgressions, it is rewarding to read about one agency and its members who value family, honor, and service to our nation.  I’m not with USCG, but I’m with DHS.  I cannot visit the land I was born in many years ago, because it is still under occupation.  But I was able to share the joy of Kensley’s experience and fantasize about me in his place visiting my country of birth.  Thank you for this joyous story.

  10. Hello! Hope that you will be able to have your wife and grandbabies visit with their extended family real soon. What a lovely story!

    1. Ken, now that you have seen Dad and Mom, how is grandma doing though? Kudos to the command of USS Jarvis, especially the captain for looking out for his ????……, in the Army we say, soldiers.. not sure in the Coast Guard,
      Anyways, way to go Ken, pls don’t forget to pick me up at the airport in HNL.

  11. I am so proud to call you my Oldest brother. I wish I was there with you and our families to celebrate your coming back after 12 years. I must say, I miss our island and our families.

  12. I am so happy for you Ken! I can’t put in to words how excited I am to hear that finally you were able to visit our home sweet home “Woleai” and to see our grandma. “A big hank you!” to Coast Guard Cutter Jarvis for bringing my cousin Kensley Raigeluw to our island for a visit.

  13. This is a really awesome story.  Kudos to the command and crew of JARVIS for taking advantage of this unique opportunity and helping Raigeluw reunite with his family, because who knows if that opportunity will ever present itself again.  A great example of taking care of your people, and makes me proud to be a Guardian.  Good stuff!

  14. What an amazing and uplifting story; this really made my day. Thank you so much for publishing this.  

  15. The story touched my heart! What a joyous homecoming that must’ve been & so glad for your husband, Lisa that the stop in the islands was not in vain. 🙂  My heart is overwhelmed today for you all. Much aloha & prayers that someday soon, you & your children will get to meet their heritage. I can only imagine as a grand parent how overjoyed I would be to see my grandchildren! Best to you and your family!  Much aloha!!!!  Marlene Martinson Seymour (second cousin, from Waiohinu, Hi)

  16. Awesome story…. significant stories like this one should be posted up everytime..not only is it very rewarding to the coast guard crew/officers but to the coast guard itself especially to the commander of the JARVIS as it shows just how much a little giving can have a great return ten-folds….Keep up the great work USCG and am happy for you and your family petty officer Kensley for being reunited once again…. 

  17. You can never tell…some people is destined to be lucky or change the way of life even you are born on the remote place on earth, so don’t lost hope…there’s always a way. I’m happy for you Ken.

  18. This is not only a wonderful story, it was also a GREAT decision by the captain, this decision surely raises the bar for all officers in the Coast Guard, and the Coast Guard itself. ” WAY TO GO CAPTAIN WEBSTER”, “WAY TO GO”

    1. Basswood towed the pontchartrain in to Guam in the middle of the night after we broke down on our way to vietnam. We didn’t want the navy to see us being towed in. Old memories!

  19. Thank you for taking time to stop to this young man’ s native land. I know how much it meant to me when someone anonymous paid for round trip tickets, for my two children (one of whom serves on the Jarvis) and myself to visit my homeland, Greece and see my sister, mom, aunts and uncles and cousins after 14 years away in the States.I am grateful to you for your gift to this young man. May you continue to encounter greater adventures and may God keep you all safe, in heart, mind, spirit and body.     Fany

  20. I am so happy for you my son. May our father bless coast guard Jarvis for giving you such oppurtunity. Things like this is always a great blessings. Take care love n safe trip always.. JARVIS, MUCH MAHALO. GOD BLESS ALL YOU.

  21. A wonderful story indeed! Good for you Kensley!  This act of good will by the captain of the Basswood is actually common in this corner of the world.  Basswood was also instrumental in bringing me up to the island of Agrihan in the Northern Marianas, a U.S. territory in the Western Pacific,  to serve the students of that remote island. Unlike the struggle for nation-building in the troubled Middle East, this relations-building in this small corner of the world is quite successful with the apparent good will we generally have for the Coast Guard.

    1.  Good points, Gustaitano.  I hope that more high school grads from Am. Samoa will join the CG.

  22. Awesome story!!!! Nice job coast guard!!! That’s why my father was in the CG and today my son is in CG!!! You guys make mr so proud to be called American !! It is good to here happy stories of compassion and home comings !!! Be safe and great job Jarvis!!!!

  23. Great story.  As a mother of a Coastie that has visited this island more than once, he has nothing but good things to say of the people on the island of Woleai.

  24. such an awesome story!…praise to our Most High God! “for I know the plans i have for you”, says the Lord, “it is for good & not for evil, to give you a hope & a future”. I hope he will be able to return home soon & take his wife & children to visit the family…with God all things are possible! 🙂

  25. When I joined in 59, it was basically because my recruiter told me I would be a name and not a number. With my membership in the “Spencer Association” I have had the opportunity and pride to see it is still the same. Proof is still in the pudding.. Thank you Jarvis.  You are a worthy ship with a great Captain.

    Bernie C.

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