Amata's Journal: AmSam’s major exports
At a recent conference I lightheartedly told my audience that American Samoa's three major exports were canned tuna, soldiers and football players. All three of those commodities came into play on the fourth stop of my military base tour: Fort Stewart, GA. I would say that close behind those three items is a fourth export: churches.
Everywhere there are Samoan communities—be they civilian or military—it will come as no surprise that you will find a Samoan church. In the case of Fort Bragg, with over 1,000 soldiers and many retirees living in the area, there are two Samoan churches. Unfortunately, a scheduling conflict prevented me from visiting the Samoan Assembly of God church on the base, but before we left for Fort Stewart we did have a chance to worship with the Samoan community at the CCCAS Fayetteville Church, whose pastor is Rev. Mana'omia Tauanu'u.
I was delighted to discover that both he and his wife Se'ela hail from Manu'a. We enjoyed the wonderful service, particularly the pastor's inspiring sermon and the beautiful singing. The pastor also gave me an opportunity to speak to the congregation and I told them how proud I was that the young people, especially those who have never even been to American Samoa, are maintaining our cultural traditions so far away from home.
From Fort Bragg we drove to Charleston, SC where I visited the Citadel in my capacity as a member of the board of directors of Field House 100 American Samoa. I am always on the lookout for colleges that might be interested in providing scholarships for our student athletes and it seemed to me that as a military academy, the Citadel might be just the sort of school to which we might be able to send two of our exports rolled into one: football players interested in becoming soldiers. I met with the college's chief recruiter and will be putting him together with FH100-AS Executive Director Brandon Smart when I return to give him my report.
Although it is not an active military facility, I very much wanted to tour Charleston's historic Fort Sumter, at which the first shots of the Civil War were fired. It sits in the middle of a bay, however, and it would have consumed more time than we had available before our scheduled arrival at Fort Stewart, just over the South Carolina state line and outside of Savannah, GA.
Because there are only one fourth as many soldiers at Fort Stewart as Fort Bragg, I had expected the physical size of the fort to be smaller than Bragg as well but was surprised to find it was twice the size of Bragg and is actually the largest Army installation east of the Mississippi River, where tank, field artillery, helicopter gunnery, and small arms ranges operate simultaneously throughout the year with little time lost to bad weather.
Even though there are fewer soldiers (and fewer Samoans) at Stewart than at Bragg, there are two Samoan churches here as well. Our host for the visit was Alualu Claxton and Loka Muna of Pago Pago, and I look forward to visiting with their sister Pastor Lupe Salt at Fort Gordon. Alualu and Loka frequently attend Pastor Salt's church and they also stay in touch with the congregation of the First Samoan Church of Christ, whose pastor is military veteran Uati Savea.
Pastor Savea and his wife graciously hosted a dinner for us at the church, which is on a large nine-acre parcel of land in Hinesville, adjacent to the base. After a private meeting with the pastor and several church elders, he had dinner with his congregation, which includes many of the Samoan soldiers stationed at the fort.
Because so many of the units are deployed at the moment, there are relatively few Samoans at the fort at the moment but we were pleased to be able to bring news from back home to their family members. The soldiers we did meet with included some who had transferred from Fort Knox which is consolidating with other forts.
We met with Naotala Rob Misaalefua of Manu'a. He is the nephew of the late Felei Misaalefua and his wife Tapu, two very good longtime friends. Pastor Savea, himself a military veteran, is a proactive, energetic minister who reaches out to all the Samoans and brings great comfort to family members worried about the safety of their Toa o Samoa abroad.
We also visited with my friend Ruth Tauanuu whose dad Tauanu'u I often visit at his store in Se'etaga for a chat. There were many other congregation members I enjoyed meeting including Martin Tauai, Misa, and Eveline Falelua who took great photos. We would have loved to have more time to tour the fort but we had a long drive ahead of us the next day and needed to get an early start because we had one stop to make along the way to Fort Benning.
DETOUR TO LYONS
Just off the Interstate that connects Savannah with Columbus GA on the other side of the state lies the small, rural town of Lyons GA. With a population of 5,000, Lyons is but a blip on most radar screens, but it is well known in American Samoa because it is the town where Chicken of the Sea canning plant was relocated when the company closed its plant in the territory.
The cannery is a huge, windowless facility, which I had hoped to tour but plant security guards said that was not possible without advance arrangements. I also had hoped to speak with plant executives to see what additional employment opportunities might be available for Samoans, since we have military retirees living not too far away outside of Forts Stewart and Gordon. Unfortunately was not able to meet with any plant executives either without an appointment in advance and was unable even to speak with one by telephone. It is a shame that I could not make a connection but I intend to pursue this issue when I return home. As I hope to combine football and soldiering at the Citadel in South Carolina, I also thought I might be able to link military veterans with tuna cannery jobs in Georgia. We shall see.
One benefit of having made the small side trip to Lyons was that I had to pass through the small town of Vidalia to return to the Interstate. Vidalia is the home of my favorite variety of onions and I picked up a large 50-lb bag which was distributed to Samoan Vidalia onion fans. We also passed through Peach Country so, naturally, a bag of Georgia peaches also found its way into the trunk of my car. With that, we set off for our next destination: Fort Benning.
More photographs from this and other stops on my trip can be found on the Aumua Amata Facebook page.
NEXT STOP: Fort Benning