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Senate honors son of Am Samoa and his journey to success

Hawaiian Airlines pilot Captain Talisau Lincoln Moliga with fono members.

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A son of American Samoa who is currently a pilot with Hawaiian Airlines and is flying the Honolulu-Pago Pago route, was honored in a brief ceremony at the Senate chamber last Friday where he was presented with a Senate Concurrent Resolution acknowledging his achievements.

The Senate Concurrent Resolution commends and congratulates Captain Talisau Lincoln Moliga for his accomplishments as a fully-fledged Hawaiian Airlines pilot.

The ceremony took place in the Senate Lounge after the session and was attended by Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean and Senate members, with Speaker Savali Talavou Ale who attended on behalf of the House of Representatives.

The man of the moment, Captain Talisau Lincoln Moliga was present with his wife Jenna Moliga and two of their three children. 

Talisau Lincoln Moliga is the son of Senator and High Talking Chief Malaepule Fuega Moliga of Manu’atele, Atu’u and Ili’ili, and Moya Yandall Moliga of Atu’u and Vaisala, Savai’i.

Hawaiian Airlines pilot Captain Talisau Lincoln Moliga (far left), his proud parents Senator Malaepule Saite Moliga and Moya Yandall-Moliga, his wife Jenna and two of their three children Gabriel and Leilani. [photo: Asi A. Faásau]

According to the resolution, Talisau received his primary education at Olosega and Lupelele elementary schools, then onto Faga’itua and Tafuna high schools where he earned his diploma. 

In an exclusive interview, Moliga recounted how his journey started straight out of Tafuna High School at just 17 years of age.

“I was your typical Samoan teenager eager to go out and see the world,” he reminisced. “And for me, I figured the best way to achieve that was through the military. But my dad didn’t want me to join at such a young age. He wanted me to attend the American Samoa Community College and go on to college in the mainland.

“After much discussion, we came to a compromise and I joined the Army Reserve while at the same time, took classes at ASCC. Then I got deployed with our local Reserve Unit back then and I found myself fresh out of the classroom into a war zone!

“It was surreal! Completely different culture and mindset, with the threat of being a casualty at the back of your mind all the time. Fortunately, knowing that my family were praying for me and the camaraderie of the other Samoan soldiers helped me a lot. Senator Olo Uluao Letuli was one of my comrades in Iraq and I’m so happy to meet him here again.”

To date, Talisau Lincoln Moliga is on record as being the youngest local soldier to be deployed to a war zone straight out of high school.

The Concurrent Resolution stated, “prior to graduation in 2003, Talisau enrolled at Wentworth Military Academy, received an Associate of Arts in General Studies and was commissioned as a United States Army Second Lieutenant simultaneously. 

At his Wentworth officer pinning ceremony, Talisau was recognized as one of the few distinguished military graduates. 

He was also the recipient of the George C. Marshall Army award. Recipients of this distinguished award are selected based on scholarship, leadership, physical fitness and community involvement. 

This award is named after soldier and statesman George C. Marshall, who played a vital role in U.S. and international affairs from 1939-51, the years that shaped the second half of the century. Marshall served as Army Chief of Staff during World War II and as Secretary of State under President Harry Truman.

From there, Second Lieutenant Moliga attended the University of Central Missouri, majoring in Criminal Justice. 

Upon receiving his Bachelor’s degree, Second Lieutenant Moliga recalled his “childhood wishful thinking” of becoming a pilot to help his beloved American Samoa. 

He was up for the challenge, which he had deemed impossible while growing up. He immediately enrolled at the University of Dubuque in Iowa, majoring in Flight Operations and was rewarded with a second Bachelor’s degree. 

Second Lieutenant Moliga continued towards his goal by obtaining the following licenses: airline pilot, airplane flight instructor, Multi-Engine License, Single Engine and Instrument Flight Instructor, and Commercial Helicopter pilot. He has been a licensed pilot for seven years.

Second Lieutenant Moliga also carried on with his military duties. He served a tour in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was awarded several medals of honor: an Order of Saint George Bronze Medallion, Bronze Star Medal, Combat Action badge, and Combat Infantryman badge. Second Lieutenant Moliga retired from service in the United States Army at the young age of 36 years old.

From 2019 – 2021 Talisau worked as a flight instructor. During this time, he became a first Officer pilot for Sky West Airlines. 

In September 2022, First Officer Talisau moved from Sky West to Hawaiian Airlines. His inaugural flight to American Samoa as the first officer pilot of Hawaiian Airlines occurred on March 19, 2023. He boasted pride that his crew of pilots were all Samoan.

Captain Moliga states that the highlight of his piloting job is when he meets Samoans on the flights and interacts with them. 

He eagerly answers parents’ questions on how their children can become pilots and enjoys socializing with fellow Samoans on the flights. 

He honors God, then his parents, family, village and his CCCAS Talalelei church for their teachings, upbringing, discipline and encouragement, which has resulted in his success.

Captain Moliga believes that God blessed him with his dream job of piloting for Hawaiian Airlines. 

He finds it comforting and invigorating to see Samoans, as he had been away from the Samoan community for a while. 

Asked what advice he would give to high school students who aspire to pursue an aviation career, he revealed that the first thing is to do your research for the best schools to attend.

Secondly, don’t be afraid.

He told Samoa News that a lot of young people who grew up in Samoa get intimidated just by looking at things and the pace of life in the mainland.

And thirdly, reach out to someone.

He emphasized the need to request support and advice from other Samoans or non-Samoans who have successfully completed their studies and have achieved their goal of an aviation career.

In the Concurrent Resolution, he gives a shout out to his fellow Samoan pilot, Captain Jimmy Peckenpaugh, who also pilots Hawaiian Airlines flights, praising Peckenpaugh for teaching him a thing or two about piloting.

He stated that there are three avenues one can take to get a pilot license and pursue a career in aviation;

Firstly, is through the military, which will pay for everything but one has to attain the required physical fitness and educational qualifications.

Secondly, is going to university where they have aviation degrees and majors that are specific to aviation like flight operations.

However, this avenue can be expensive without partly or fully funded scholarships especially if you’re from middle-income family here in American Samoa.

The third avenue is where you pay as you go.

In other words, you work a 9 to 5 job and pay your own aviation education, which you take at night or whatever time suits your schedule. He revealed that a lot of people in Hawaii are doing this.

Captain Moliga also acknowledged the loving support of his wife Jenna Moliga and their three children, Gabriel, Leilani and Samuel. He states, “I am living proof that any child of American Samoa can pursue any dream job they want if they are committed,” the Concurrent Resolution stated.

Captain Moliga pointed out that as a pilot, you must have a good understanding of meteorology because when a plane is in flight, it is at the mercy of weather patterns.

“You have to be able to read the weather charts and anticipate the weather conditions in your flight path to avoid turbulence and other adverse effects,” he explained. “So I recommend that you get a qualification in meteorology because that’s the most important factor all pilots have to contend with.”

A quiet-spoken and down-to-earth person who is just ‘one of the boys’ when he meets friends and schoolmates, he exudes sophistication and professionalism when he dons an airline captain’s uniform, a profession he thought he could never achieve.

“It was a lot of hard work,” he said. “I had to eat, drink and breathe aviation because there was no room for slacking off. I stuck in there and with commitment and faith in God, I prevailed.”

He stated that it is a very rewarding job with a lot of benefits and although it is strenuous at times, once you know and understand how to fly an airplane, it becomes easier and easier.

Captain Moliga also revealed his feelings about Friday’s presentation.

“It was a bit of a surprise and of course an honor to be recognized by our traditional leaders, but for someone like me coming from humble beginnings, I tend to shy away from the spotlight,” he said. “But if this recognition inspires our younger generations to chase their dreams even if they seem impossible, then I will be happy. I want them to think, if this guy who is a Samoan like me, who grew up here and went through the local education system can become an airline pilot, then I can do it too!”

“On behalf of the people of American Samoa, the Legislature extends its sincere Congratulations and heartfelt Faamalo to Captain Talisau Lincoln Moliga for his exemplary military service, for attaining a career goal rarely chosen by American Samoans and setting an impressive example that our children can become pilots,” the Senate Concurrent Resolution concluded.