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Longtime friends connect again at Ft Benning

Toloai Sosene didn’t expect to join the military as a teenager, or see two of his childhood friends again after they graduated high school. And he said he never expected to play volleyball with them while serving in the Army.

As the intramural volleyball season concluded Wednesday, Sosene along with friends Siatuvai Ioane and Sililo Atonio who grew up playing on the same school teams took the court perhaps for one final time together.

“I’m just fortunate enough to be stationed here,” Atonio said. “This is my first time seeing (Ioane) since high school.

“It’s very rare to see guys who grew up together 15 or 20 years later. It brings back memories. It’s a blessing. I’m happy that we’re all here playing the game that we love.”

The trio each took different paths, but now all of them have gone through Fort Benning.

Ioane is the most experienced player of the three, having started at age 4. Sosene and Atonio picked up the game in grade school. The three played together for the Leone High School Lions.

Ioane attended Chaminade University in Honolulu before joining the Army reserves. He was stationed at Fort Knox in 2006 and has been at Fort Benning with the 11th Engineer Battalion since 2008. He said he expects to leave next spring.

Sosene and Atonio, meanwhile, both joined the Army right after high school. Atonio has been to Fort Knox, K.Y., twice, Iraq twice, Fort Stewart, Ga., twice, and Germany and Kosovo before arriving at Fort Benning a year ago. Sosene has been to Fort Knox twice, Fort Riley, Kan., twice, South Korea, Alaska and said he is leaving again for Fort Riley this month.

Sosene said the trio will never forget their origins. Playing intramural volleyball at Fort Benning might be spoiling him, he said.

For example, wearing shoes while playing volleyball is a luxury compared to Samoan culture. If he went back home and showed up wearing shoes at a court, natives would immediately know he had been to America, he said.

He said he remembered while growing up, his friend Atonio had no shoes; he couldn’t afford them. He’ll never forget that because of the high school Thanksgiving turkey run.

Atonio had volunteered to coordinate the event, but when one person didn’t show up for the race, he took his place — and won barefoot, he said.

“I was upset because he didn’t want to share the turkey,” Sosene said.

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