Amata’s Journal: Samoans at Fort Bragg
FORT BRAGG, NC. — A five-hour drive southwest of Norfolk, the trip to Fort Bragg was one of the longest legs of our journey to nine military bases in the southeastern states. This is my third time to the fort, which is spread over four counties in North Carolina and is home to 40,000 people in an area five times the size of Tutuila. Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) "Koko" Totolua Robert Yandall, who has spent 35 of his 41-year (and counting) Army career at Fort Bragg (and is currently the longest serving soldier at the Fort) told me that the population count includes well over 1,000 Samoans.
When we entered the huge USA Sports complex for the Asia-Pacific American Heritage Month celebration, it seemed like half of the Samoan population was present. Moreover, Samoans dominated the entertainment. It was a great source of pride to me to watch all these young people perform our traditional dances and I can tell you that if they sent overseas the group of Toa o Samoa who performed a traditional war dance, the world would be at peace in a flash.
Fort Bragg is the home of the US Army Airborne Forces and Special Forces, as well as U.S. Army Forces Command and U.S. Army Reserve Command. So, it is no wonder there are so many Samoans stationed here. I first visited Bragg with my father in 1983 who came here to pay tribute to the Samoan troops and two years ago I accepted Sale Solaita's invitation to come to the Fort to participate in his promotion ceremony to captain.
Captain Solaita, son of our late, beloved Peni Solaita, is still posted here and was a key leader in organizing the entertainment.
When people ask me about American Samoa, I tell them we are noted for three major exports: canned tuna, football players and soldiers. I have heard that at one point when StarKist and Van Camp were operating at full capacity, one third of all canned tuna consumed in the U.S. came from American Samoa and it is well known that a Samoan male is 40 times more likely to play in the National Football League than a male from any other segment of the U.S. population.
Sadly, we have suffered disproportionately greater combat casualties than any other U.S. State or Territory but although I do not have statistics to prove it, I believe American Samoa also provides a disproportionate number of Army enlisted leaders as well.
Command Sergeant Major (CSM) is as high as you can go in the Army and the person holding that position right now at Fort Bragg is Isaia “Ace” Vimoto of Utulei, a soldier with over 31 years of service in the Army.
CSM Vimoto, who assumed his new position since I was at the Fort two years ago, served as master of ceremonies for the entertainment portion of the APAHM program. Although the program was meant to showcase the rich variety of Asian and Pacific cultures, it was the Samoans who dominated the day and their performance was greeted with great enthusiasm by the audience. The speech making part of the program was actually held earlier in the week when I was at Fort Eustis. Saturday was devoted to family, food, fun, entertainment and competition.
Following the formal program, which was launched with an early morning 5k fun run, the Samoans gathered for a fiafia at which Capt. Solaita presented a token of appreciation to CSM Vimoto for his leadership. For his part, CSM Vimoto pledged that during his tour at Fort Bragg he would devote time to developing the large Samoan community to build Samoan spirit and camaraderie. I also was invited to make remarks and told the audience, which consisted of most of those who had entertained earlier, how proud they made me to be a Samoan by working so hard to preserve our ancient culture and traditions.
It was a real treat to be the house guest of CPT Roland Tsuneo Glenister, his wife Megan, a former beauty queen, and daughter Madeline. Roland, who I call by his childhood nickname “Tune,” is the son of my youngest sister Limonmon and her husband Tuaua Roland E. Glenister of Nuuuli, who himself is a retired CSM. Young Roland said he learned a lot growing up in a military family watching senior enlisted leaders interact with commissioned officers. He said it gives him an extra advantage in working with senior enlisted men with many years more experience than he has, such as men like CWO Yandall and CSM Vimoto. Roland's two brothers, my nephews Stewart and Marshall, also are Army officers.
Roland and Megan have a spacious home on base and staying there gave me the opportunity to cook Sapasui, for the post-entertainment get together with the Samoans. As I spoke at the barbecue, I thought to myself that I very well could be talking to future American Samoa leaders for another tradition we have is Samoans in the military coming home to serve our people in traditional leadership and government.
The group photo from my first visit in 1983 includes a young Warrant Officer Koko Yandall, of course, but it also includes Tuileama Nua, our current Director of Health, my brother-in-law now Command Chief Warrant Officer, SOCPAC, Lincoln Glenister, now retired SGT Pepa Fuata and his late wife Vai, Lene Maseuli, Sam Samuelu, Tofa Salafai, To'atolu Nua and many others too numerous to mention.
And of course, although he wasn't in that particular photograph, our Lt. Governor Lemanu, is a retired Army Major. So, while we may export soldiers, when they complete their military service we import them as leaders. Not a bad trade.
NEXT STOP: Fort Stewart