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Frmr. Guam Congressman and (ret.) USMC Gen. Ben Blaz, Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary Papaliitele David Cohen chat with Aumua Amata
Amata Aumua and Ireland's Prime Minister Bertie Ahern. At the White House Shamrock Ceremony, Ahern presented the Irish shamrock to President Bush to symbolize in a very special way the bonds between the Irish and American people. Following the ceremony the White House held a reception with an elaborate spread of food and drink to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day 2007. Said Amata, "Speaking as a proud Samoan with a wee bit of Irish heritage, it was truly an honor and I thank the President for including me."
Samoan Marines Organize in the East
by Aumua Amata
Asia Pacific American Heritage Month had formally come to an end for 2013 but I still had two bases to visit: Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and Fort Lee, Virginia. I was looking forward to both with anticipation because this was to be my second visit to each installation. We departed Fort Jackson Friday afternoon so we could break the trip with an overnight stay with my nephew CPT Roland Tsuneo Glenister and his family at Fort Bragg. A quick breakfast and we were off the next day on the four-hour drive to Camp Lejeune. We arrived at Camp Lejeune, a U.S. Marine base, on a Saturday afternoon and once again were hosted by our dear friends Cory and Sylvia Sulua’I Avens. Cory, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, is the owner of his own construction company. Sylvia, from Pago Pago, retired from the Navy and now has a civilian job in the area with the Defense Department.
Camp Lejeune, the only Marine base we visited on this tour, is a 246-square-mile training facility in Jacksonville NC on the Atlantaic coast. The base's 14 miles of beaches make it a major area for amphibious assault training, and its location between the two deep-water ports of Wilmington and Morehead City allows for fast deployments. The main base is supplemented by five satellite facilities and has twenty resident commands. Along with Camp Pendleton, CA, Camp Lejeune is one of the two main Marine bases in the U.S.
Sunday morning I accompanied Sylvia and Cory to the River of Life non-denominational church, which had a wonderfully multi-cultural, diverse congregation, many of whom are in the military, so everyone seemed to have a crisp, fit, clean-cut appearance, particularly the ushers and church assistants. The music was awesome and I found the "You are the Message" sermon to be very inspirational as it touched on breaking down walls. I was drawn to the positive, energetic and dynamic Pastor Chris Phillips whose passion made him seem to be on fire for God and His people and I am certain I would have gone to that church every single Sunday with Sylvia had I lived in that area. Pastors Miriam and Chris have undoubtedly had a life changing effect on many individuals. Following the worship service we headed to the park where the Samoan community was gathering. As people began to arrive with delicious Samoan dishes, the barbeque was fired up for grilling sausages, pork, beef and chicken. The aroma was overpowering. What better way to spend a warm Sunday than at church and at a picnic.
USN (RET) Sylvia Sulua'i Avens of Pago, was a spark plug for bringing this event together along with HMCM Tavita Feti Saelua (MARSOC) USN of Nuuuli and Leone, a nephew of Governor Lolo's chief of staff, Fiu Saelua. Between the two of them, they must have brought together about a hundred or more people for this event.
Throughout the course of the BBQ, I had a chance to spend time with Samoan active and retired military civilian personnel of the Samoan community including (USMC RET) Filipo & Mariane Bartley family of Manu'a; USMC (RET) Ve'a & Eseta Mageo family of Pago Pago and Aoa; Sua Masoli family from Nuuuli; (USN Ret.) Sylvia Sulua'i Avens and her husband Cory Avens, a graduate of U.S. Naval Academy; Iakopo & Teresa Ape family from Laulii; SGT Frank Porter MARSOC USMC family of Futiga; LCDR (USN RET) Tepora Su'esu'e Beckman from Manu'a; MSGT Tanielu Tulifua II MEF USMC from the Tualauta district. CPL Samoa Osoimalo Tank Battalion USMC; MSGT USMC William Flatt and wife Cathryn and their children; Feti Tavita Saelua of Nuuuli, his wife Jess and children Zenora, Tala and Sione Saelua; Yvette Ferguson and her husband and son; Iupeli Hugo; Trixie Sturgis; Sophie Dupree; Nick Bartley and family; Mel Casaretto whose husband is a USMC veteran; Destiny; Bobby (USMC Retired) and his wife Cora Tucker; Joann Shen, Public Health Corps; LTJG USN Rannie Simpson; Daniela Lopez, a USMC military spouse; Reina Romero; Dawn Brown; Kekoa Brown and Leranda Lee and Eric. Unlike most of the army bases, the Marines do not have a formal Asian Pacific American Heritage observance in the spring. Rather, they hold an extravaganza in the fall that honors all ethnic and heritage groups. I have no doubt Samoan performances dominate that event as they did every observance we attended on this tour.
However, Sylvia, Feti and some of the other leaders decided the time was right to form a separate Asian and Pacific Islander organization for this part of the state and the idea began to take form right at this picnic. One of the most satisfying aspects of my travels around the country to visit island communities is to bring our people together wherever I may find them and be able to serve as a catalyst for the formation of communities of interest among them, whether it be just social in nature or to empower themselves in the larger communities in which they live.
Since we departed, the group has gone on to establish the Eastern Carolina Asian Pacific Islanders (ECAPAC) group, complete with their own Facebook page, which I encourage readers to visit. They already have met to elect officers and I think the group promises to grow and become as well known as Iakopo Poyer's Pacific Island American Group of Virginia (PIAGVA) just to the north.
Feti Tavita Saelua and Sylvia Sulua'i Avens deserve a lot of credit for organizing this event and pulling together the Samoan community. This was a family oriented event and I was delighted that so many of the young people present put on such wonderful dance performances for us. Some of them have not been home yet to visit grandparents, aunties and uncles, but they are learning our customs and traditions for when that day comes.
When I was called upon to speak, I made the very point of how proud I was of our Samoan youth growing up so far from the islands but continuing to embrace our culture. I will treasure the model North Carolina lighthouse I was presented as a token of appreciate for coming all the way out to eastern North Carolina to be with local Samoan families. I will particularly cherish this gift because so many of our people autographed it.
We spent another lovely evening with Sylvia and Cory before heading off Monday morning to the ninth and final stop on our trip. More photos of my visit to Camp Lejeune can be found on my Facebook page: Aumua Amata.
Aumua Amata enjoys meeting and chatting with Samoan civilian and military personnel who attended the Camp Lejeune picnic/BBQ, including (USMC Retired) Filipo & Mariane Bartley family of Manu'a; USMC (Retired) Ve'a & Eseta Mageo family of Pago Pago and Aoa; Sua Masoli family from Nuuuli; Event Organizer USN (RET) Sylvia Sulua'i Avens of Pago Pago and her husband Cory Avens, a graduate of the US Naval Academy ; Iakopo & Teresa Ape family from Laulii; SGT Frank Porter MARSOC USMC family of Futiga; LCDR (USN RET) Tepora Su'esu'e Beckman from Manu'a; MSGT Tanielu Tulifua II MEF USMC from the Tualauta district. CPL Samoa Osoimalo Tank Battalion USMC; MSGT USMC William Flatt and wife Cathryn and their children; Event Organizer HMCM Feti Tavita Saelua (MARSOC) USN of Nuuuli, his wife Jess and children Zenora, Tala and Sione Saelua; Yvette Ferguson and her husband and son; Iupeli Hugo; Trixie Sturgis; Sophie Dupree; Nick Bartley and family; Mel Casaretto whose husband is a USMC veteran; Destiny; Bobby (USMC Retired) and his wife Cora Tucker; Joann Shen, Public Health Corps; LTJG USN Rannie Simpson; Daniela Lopez, a USMC military spouse; Reina Romero; Dawn Brown; Kekoa Brown and Leranda Lee and Eric.
Next stop: Fort Lee, VA
Amata's Journal: Day SEVEN
Reprinted from Samoa News
Ft. Jackson takes combat training timeout to solute Asia-Pacific American Heritage month
COLUMBIA, SC - Fort Jackson, as the Army's main production center for Basic Combat Training, trains 50 percent of the Army's Basic Combat Training load and processes 60 percent of the women entering the Army each year. So taking a day to observe Asia Pacific American Heritage (APAH) Month comes as a welcome diversion for their mission and the missions of the other commands at the fort. The base also is home to the U.S. Army Soldier Support Institute, the Armed Forces Army Chaplaincy Center and School (which this year hosted and organized the APAH activities) and the National Center for Credibility Assessment.
This army post also is home to the Army's Drill Sergeant School, which trains all active and Reserve instructors and it was thanks to one of their drill sergeants, DSL (SFC) Ira Uiagalelei of Futiga, that I was invited to be a special guest. I was happy to be returning to Fort Jackson, where I was the keynote speaker at the 2010 APAH observance, at the invitation of SFC Faapepele H. Tajalle, who also hosted a huge social gathering in my honor that year that brought in soldiers and entertainers from Forts Bragg, Stewart and Gordon as well.
We were able to extend our stay at Fort Gordon by a day because Fort Jackson is only a 90-minute drive and the observance was to be a lunch that would not be starting until 11:30 a.m. After bidding our Fort Gordon hosts a fond farewell, we made our way to into Columbia, down Strom Thurmond Avenue to the Fort Jackson main gate and onwards to the fort's sparkling new Solomon Center where Ira greeted us and ushered us through the packed auditorium to the seating area reserved for special guests.
Just I was surprised to find Trudie Iuli at Fort Benning when I was there a few days earlier, I was not expecting to find myself seated next to Sulufa’iga Maui Shalhout at Fort Jackson. On-island readers will know that my dear friend Sulu, originally from Manu'a, is a prominent Tutuila businesswoman who traveled to Fort Jackson to spend time with daughter Rima Le'iato and her family. Sulu was particularly looking forward to the luncheon entertainment because her granddaugther Raniyah would be dancing.
The Fort Jackson mess prepared for the 500 guests a delicious buffet lunch featuring different Asian and Pacific dishes. While we were feasting on dessert, the program began. There were a variety of wonderful APA numbers including a Tae Kwon Do demonstration and the history of Philippine Scouts, but--excuse my bias--the Samoan performance was the highlight of the day.
The Samoans clearly outpaced the other performers and I was particularly impressed by the dancing of Shareen and DSL (SFC) Ira Uiagalelei's daughters Ireen and Jasmine Uiagalelei, Rima Shalhout Le'iato's daughter Raniyah, Rosalina and Lualani Uso-Macon whose mother SFC Sivailoa Uso also served as emcee, and Leonia and Tehina Moeolo; Sunema Knuckles the daughter of Akesa Mauga and Cedric Knuckles was the Taupou and performed the Taualuga.
I have always admired the ability of our people to step up to the plate when they are needed and this group was no different. Ira and MAJ Le'iato cut a mean swath with their eye-catching soga'imiti in fine traditional Samoan attire and brought the house down with their performance. The parents of our younger dancers are to be complimented for getting their children to rehearsals and I commend Shareen, Rima, Sivailoa, Akesa Mauga Knuckles, the Moeola family and the others for their hard work to make this a very memorable occasion but the most important work, the performance on stage, was done by the youngsters themselves and I salute them.
While some bases toned down their APAHM celebrations this year and others eliminated it altogether, Fort Jackson with support from their Officers and NCO Clubs, the Museum, the Public Affairs Office, the Department of Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation, the 282nd Band, 171st and 193rd Infantry Brigades, the EOAs and EOLs and the USACHS Special Observance Committee, went the extra nine yards to contribute to the success of their APAHM luncheon.
At the end of the program, I spent time with the Samoan military personnel and civilians who were there and Ira graciously invited us to spend the night but because it actually was his very last day there before moving on to his next assignment, we decided to cut our stay short in favor of overnighting with my nephew CPT Roland Glenister and his family at Fort Bragg to break our long drive to our next stop: Camp Lejeune.
One thing I have learned on this trip is that at every stop we made there are more Pacific Islanders and particularly more Samoans than I had expected. Although Pacific islanders may be a very small group when compared with other ethnic communities in the U.S., the Census Bureau estimated Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders in 2011--either full blooded or in combination with one or more other races--to be at 1.4 million people and growing. Many veterans of APA heritage, including Samoans, settle in communities around the military installations where they last serve before retiring and then raise their families there. These numbers are growing, too, and, whether in military or civilian capacities, our people will be playing an increasingly important role in writing the next chapter of the American story.
Additional photos may be found at the Aumua Amata facebook page.
Next stop: CAMP LEJEUNE.