American Samoa’s Service Academy nominations get A+ for equality
Washington, D.C. – Friday, Congresswoman Aumua Amata highlighted a nonpartisan report from Yale Law School and affiliated Veterans groups that studied the Service Academy nominations of every Member of the U.S. House and Senate, and found that American Samoa stood out with a unique balance of equality in male and female nominations. American Samoa is the only district in the nation to almost achieve a naturally occurring 50-50 ratio, nominating slightly more females in total, while the current Academy students from American Samoa are balanced with three female and three male students attending these prestigious Academies. For instance, the latest announcement earlier this year congratulated two students, one male and one female, upon being offered acceptance to Academies.
“I’m delighted that American Samoa has this healthy balance in opportunity for congressional Academy nominees,” said Aumua Amata. “Once again, American Samoa stands out in an area of military service, along with our very high enlistment rates. We have a high level of interest in the service Academies from our academically qualified students, and our teachers and schools do a great job of helping high achieving students understand this option is a possibility. Congratulations to all of them, starting with Education Director Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga and everyone who works with our students. Thank you also to my staff.”
This national report was compiled by Yale Law School in cooperation with two associated Veterans organizations: the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center and the Veterans Legal Services Clinic. They studied the nominations of all 541 total U.S. Senators and Representatives, including the six Territories.
“Ultimately, it’s a credit to our islands’ entire tradition of service to the country,” continued Congresswoman Amata. “My office evaluates and nominates qualifications one individual at a time. It is very helpful that these students have great examples to look to, both in recent classes and in those who have had careers as military officers, and these examples include plenty of women leaders. One of these examples is right in my office, retired Col. Leafaina Yahn, now serving as Chief of Staff.”
Beginning in August of every year, Amata’s District staffer who handles education issues and the Chief of Staff update the nomination application packet and timeline for submission. Copies of the packets are printed and hand-delivered to every high school. The Congresswoman’s staff often personally speaks with the counselors about the process, and holds meetings at the high schools to talk to interested students. As an Academy graduate, Chief of Staff Leafaina Yahn personally goes back to the district to attend these meetings and talk to the students about her experiences at the Academy and serving in the Army.
“I know that by personally reaching out and having them see and hear me – a female who grew up in American Samoa under the same education system and Samoan culture with English as a second language, graduated from a military academy and successfully served in the Army for 26 years – can be a source of motivation for our young men and especially young women,” said Leafaina Yahn, retired U.S. Army Colonel.
The process is very hands-on. Sometimes, district staff have helped students fill out Academy applications on-line, driven to the schools to pick up their nomination packets, stayed after hours to answer questions, and followed up to make sure they don’t miss the deadlines. Once the applications are in, the Chief of Staff leads the review of each and every one carefully. If we happen to have more applicants than available slots, we pull together a board, which the Chief of Staff chairs, to select the most qualified candidates regardless of gender. (Note: Since most of our Academy graduates are still serving, we go to our Veteran population and select retired officers and senior non-commissioned officers.) Once the list is approved by the board and the Congresswoman, the Chief of Staff submits the names through the academies’ websites before the deadline (31 Jan). When we have a candidate that is selected for an appointment to an academy, Congresswoman Amata personally calls the student and the parents to inform and congratulate them, followed by a press release for the local paper, TV, radio and social media, and recognition at high school graduation by the Congresswoman in person, whenever possible.
“Every nominee is such a delight, and I know that all of American Samoa is cheering these students on, along with all our other friends serving in uniform anywhere,” concluded Amata. “The students earn these appointments, and their parents and teachers, often along with pastors and others, whole families and villages, have reason to share pride and excitement in these achievements.”