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Bill to establish National Guard unit in American Samoa introduced

fili@samoanews.com

Congressman Faleomavaega Eni introduced a bill (H.R. 6294) on Thursday, in the US House, to authorize the Secretary of the Department of Defense (DOD) to establish a National Guard unit in American Samoa.

The measure, co sponsored by Reps. Donna Christensen of the US Virgin Islands and Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, has since been referred to the US House Committee on Armed Forces, according to House electronic records, which state the text of the bill should be publicly available soon.

Upon introduction of the measure, Faleomavaega told his colleagues National Guard units have been mobilized to supplement regular armed forces during times of war or national emergencies as part of their federal duties and at state and territorial levels, National Guard units have been used in their respective states upon declaration of a state of emergency.

There are 54 separate National Guard units – one for each of the 50 States and the District of Columbia, plus Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands. 

“There is no National Guard unit in American Samoa,” he said on the House floor and recalled the September 2009 tsunami in which entire villages were devastated creating a disaster of epic proportion in the territory.

“Mr. Speaker, one of the lessons of the 2009 tsunami is the fact that American Samoa is prone to natural disasters and we must be prepared,” he said. “Especially, with American Samoa being out there on its own in the midst of the vast South Pacific Ocean, it is very difficult to coordinate and organize first responders from the mainland. Having a National Guard unit in the Territory is extremely helpful.”

He pointed out that American Samoa has a per capita enlistment rate in the U.S. military higher than any other state or US Territory.  Additionally, American Samoans have served in record numbers in every US military engagement from WWII to present operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

“We have stood by the United States in good times and bad, and I believe this relationship would only be strengthened by establishing a National Guard unit in American Samoa,” he said.

“I understand that there are several other issues to iron out to fulfill the objectives of this legislation. My hope is to work together with my colleagues to make these necessary improvements and adjustments,” he said and urged his colleagues to support this important piece of legislation.

The National Guard unit out of Hawai’i was among the US Armed Forces personnel dispatched to the territory following the 2009 tsunami providing critical transport of the life-saving and life-sustaining supplies and equipment to meet the immediate needs of the survivors.

Togiola had discussed having a unit of the Hawai’i National Guard based in American Samoa during meetings in 2005 with then Hawai’i Gov. Linda Lingle.

Faleomavaega raised the issue of a National Guard in American Samoa in January 2009 when he wrote to top military officials and US Sen. Daniel Inouye seeking support for the establishment of a detachment unit of the Hawaii Air National Guard in  Pago Pago.

A unit in Pago Pago was also discussed by Gov. Togiola Tulafono and federal officials during a meeting in February 2009 in Washington DC.  Other political leaders in the territory at the time were also supportive of a local unit of the National Guard because it would provide job opportunities and also be available to assist the local government in times of disaster especially when the nearest US jurisdiction — Hawai’i — is thousands of miles away.

In March 2009, Faleomavaega wrote to General Craig R. McKinley, Chief of the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va., for support in expediting the process of a detachment unit in Pago Pago.



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