Amata's Journal: Final stop — Fort Lee
After a truly enjoyable visit with the Samoan community at Camp Lejeune and Jacksonville, we said our goodbyes to our hosts Sylvia Sulua'i Avens of Pago Pago and her husband Corey Avens whose generous hospitality will never be forgotten.
Sylvia is retired from her long service in the US Navy and her husband is a 1995 Naval Acadamy graduate. It was Sylvia who, along with Tavita F. Saelua, of Nuuuli, put together the very successful event with the Samoan community. Tavita has been in the Navy for almost thirty years is now the Directorate Leading Chief Petty Officer (DLCPO) for Branch Clinics.
I enjoyed the opportunity to tell Camp Lejeune Samoans how their families are doing back home and will be carrying messages from them back to the island. I later learned that they have since organized themselves into a group that meets regularly and was delighted to participate in their first gathering.
Our next stop was Fort Lee. Named for Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Fort Lee is the headquarters of the Army Combined Armed Support Command (CASCOM), Sustainment Center of Excellence (SCoE), the Army's Quartermaster School, the Ordnance School, the Transportation School, the Logistics University (ALU), the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA), and the U.S. Defense Commissary Agency.
I enjoyed the Army Women's Museum, the only museum in the world dedicated to preserving and sharing the history of our women in the United States Army and it is the only museum of its kind in any of the U.S. Armed Forces.
I loved visiting Samoans stationed there, fellowship was the order of the day and we made the best of it!
CPT Mario Claytor and his lovely wife Liaina Hunkin Claytor of Vailoatai invited us to their home where we met two of their five beautiful children: Anthony and Sean.
Liaina is the daughter of the late beloved Tau Hunkin and my good friend Teri Hunkin and I looked forward to spending time with them. Much to our delight we were served a delicious lunch of pulled pork with all the trimmings.
I also met Lorna Solaita King, from Nu’uuli, a long time Fort Lee civilian resident who does great work for the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command who loves Fort Lee and considers it to be her home.
I inquired about some of the Samoans I had met on my previous visits to Fort Lee including my friend Sinalemoana Fuiava of Faleasao, her husband Osa and their children. They are now stationed in Germany.
My friend Tolu Savea from Matu'u and her family are also serving our Nation at another station point. I did have a chance to talk with Hope, the sister of Mapu Jamias. Regrettably I missed seeing Gwendolyn Emmsley of Leone as well as other Samoan soldiers who transferred out of Fort Lee just before my arrival.
Because of another commitment in the Nation's Capitol, we did not overnight in Fort Lee as we had done at the other military bases and got back on the road that same day.
There are many more Samoans out there than previously thought because many retirees and their families end up settling right near their final station point and they proudly perpetuate the customs of our beautiful Samoan culture wherever they go, such as preparing the umu outdoors, building a church for Samoans, teaching their young to dance and speak Samoan and in many other ways.
I eagerly look forward to visiting the military bases at which I've been invited to speak during the 2014 Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
This was my final stop in my 2013 tour of our military bases and it has been an educational, eye opening experience.
My sincere thanks to all of you I met and visited with along the way. Your generosity, hospitality and giving hearts are like no other. To have the opportunity to thank our men and women in uniform right at the bases where they serve is a very moving and humbling experience.