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Ryan Taifane graduates at the top of his class in Officer Candidate School

Ryan Taifane with his mother Taua Niualama Taifane and his brother, Eric.

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Earlier this year, Ryan Vaeoso Taifane, 27, became the first Samoan in five years to be sworn in locally as an officer candidate in the US Army. He's back now — temporarily. But this time, he is an officer, a leader, a member of the world's greatest military.

Taifane left the island on April 16, 2018, for Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for boot camp as an enlisted E4. After 9 weeks of BCT, he graduated and moved on to Fort Benning, Georgia for Officer Candidate School (OCS), a 12-week program that includes a multitude of trainings including military knowledge, leadership courses, field exercises, and mental exercises.

Each participant is graded on an Order of Merit List (OML) which includes all scores: written test scores, Garrison leadership, field leadership, and overall performance as a solder (physically and mentally), to determine who is ranked #1 in the class, and who is last.

"The importance of this ranking system is so soldiers who have earned their spot at the top can get first pick on the branch of their choice," Taifane told Samoa News over the weekend. The number of spots available for branches varies from class to class and depends on various things, and where there is a need for officers.

"There is no sure way to know if you will get the branch of your choosing unless you are at the top of your class," Taifane explained. Branches include infantry, armor, military intelligence, engineer, signal, quarter master, transportation, air defense artillery, field artillery, etc.

"At the 8th week of OCS, the OML will be put together by the cadre and the selection of branches or 'branching' takes place," Taifane said. "This is the climax of OCS."

Some people get what they want, some don't. Some are "force branched" to whatever branch is left in the end. After the tallying of the scores, Taifane earned the marks to make him #1 in his class and this allowed him to select whatever branch he wanted, that was available.

After long discussions with his wife Allison about their future, the couple decided on the Engineer branch "Essayons!"

On September 28, Taifane fulfilled his dream of becoming an officer. He graduated OCS and was commissioned as an O-1 or 2LT. As #1 in his class, he was recognized as a distinguished academic graduate and received the Highest Academic Achievement Award.

Not bad for someone who — armed with a college degree — had a hard time trying to find a job locally.

He told Samoa News earlier this year that his goal is "to go off island and make something of myself — do something that matters." And he did just that.

A 2008 graduate of Leone High School, Taifane got himself into bodybuilding to prepare himself for military life. He admits that his original plan was to join the US Marine Corps straight out of high school but "mom said no — go to college first."

And like a model soldier, he did as he was told. After high school, he attended the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) and graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in 2011. He went on to the University of Hawaii, Manoa and completed his Bachelor of Arts degree program in kinesiology from UH Hilo last year. He was able to complete all three kinesiology concentrations: sports medicine and therapy; health promotion; and exercise science.

Taifane is on island for three weeks for "hometown recruiting". He credits the local Army Recruiting Station — SFC Josh Polonowski, SFC Ira Uiagalelei, and SFC Kenny Tran — for "making the opportunity possible for me."

"I wanted to tell my story and hopefully inspire future officers/leaders here on our island to join the best profession there is in the world," he said. "I know personally that there is an issue with degree holding kids coming back to our island wanting to give back, but there are no good paying jobs here with benefits that will help them and their families."

Taifane is married to Allison Moliga and they have three children: Susana, Matthew, and Ryan.

 He is the fifth child of Niualama and the late Apefa'i Taifane of Amanave and Poloa. He has four brothers and two sisters, none of whom are in the military.

"This is special for me, because I am the first person in my immediate family to join the service," he shared.

His parting words: "Do not be discouraged or doubt yourself. I felt the same way when I left, but our culture has trained us well and gives us Samoans that advantage in the military. If I can do it, so can you! Hoahhh!"

Taifane is on active duty status and his initial contract is for 8 years.