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UPDATE: Afghan war claims another Toa o Samoa

American Samoa native and Toa o Samoa, U.S. Army Spc. Tofiga J. Tautolo, 23, died over the weekend in Afghanistan, where he was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Tautolo, whose home of record is Wilmington, Calif., died May 27, in Bati Kot, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, “of wounds sustained when his vehicle was attacked with an enemy improvised explosive device”, according to the U.S. Defense Department news release dated May 29.

Tautolo was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colorado.

 Tautolo’s uncle Edward Tautolo told Samoa News that his nephew is a native of American Samoa and graduated from Manu’a High School in 2006, which was the same year that his mother passed away.

His mother is laid to rest in Hawai’i which is also where his father, Foaiatu Tautolo of Aunu’u, resides. The father is now in Seattle to make funeral arrangements with the soldier’s widow, Rita Valoaga Tautolo. The couple and their three young children reside in Seattle, said Edward Tautolo.

“My kids in the states called me [Tuesday] to tell me about Tofiga’s death and I just broke down,” said Edward Tautolo, who retired from the U.S. Navy and currently lives in Tutuila. “It was a very sad moment when I received the news about Tofiga, who is a great person and enjoyed being in the military.”

Edward Tautolo recalled that after Tofiga graduated from high school, he suggested to Foaiatu Tautolo that Tofiga take the military entrance exam, which he did, and he passed it.

“Tofiga later told me that the U.S. Marine Corps wanted him and I suggested that he look at other branches of the military before making a final choice,” Edward Tautolo recalled. “I gave him some insight of the military services that were open to him, but he maintained his choice of the Marine Corp.”

“Tofiga wanted to help his other siblings—there are six of them all together, two boys and four girls—especially because his mother had passed away,” he said. “He told me that the Marine Corps wanted him as a gunner and I told him that if that is what he wants, then go for it.”

According to a military information sheet received yesterday by Samoa News from Fort Carson, Tautolo, while with the Marine Corps he was deployed to Iraq twice— the first time from Feb. 25 to June 30, 2008 and then again from July 1 to Sept. 15 that same year.

While still with the Marine Corps. he was deployed to Afghanistan from May 9 to Dec. 5, 2009 before entering the U.S. Army on May 5, 2011. He was then stationed in Fort Carson starting July 19 of last year.

As a member of the Army, he was deployed to Afghanistan on March 13, 2012 as a “cavalry scout”.

Edward Tautolo told Samoa News that when he met with his nephew last year in Hawai’i, he asked his nephew about the military service. “He told me that he liked the military, and he was very, very happy,” he said.

According to the military, Spc. Tautolo’s remains arrived back on U.S. soil at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, on May 28.

Edward Tautolo said he has been informed that Spc. Tautolo’s remains will be at Dover Air Force Base for up to a week for an investigation by the military, and the family funeral service is currently being planned.

He said Spc. Tautolo’s father would like his son to be laid to rest in Hawai’i next to his mother’s grave but a final decision has not been made yet.

Colorado Springs Gazette newspaper reported yesterday that Tautolo's death marks the fourth casualty for the brigade since its deployment in March to eastern Afghanistan, a rugged, mountainous region that has been a hotbed of insurgent activity.

The brigade is in the midst of a nine-month deployment to train Afghan troops and police near the Pakistan border while also rooting out insurgents and patrolling for Taliban moving between the two countries.

Among the awards for Tautolo are: National Defense Service Medal Afghanistan Campaign Medal w/ Campaign Star – 3; Iraq Campaign Medal w/ Campaign Star – 1; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal;  Army Service Ribbon; and NATO Medal.

Tautolo is the 19th Toa o Samoa to die in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, according to Samoa News records going back to 2003 - based on information from family members and the military.

Samoa News extends our sincere condolences to the family of fallen hero and Toa o Samoa, Spc. Tofiga J. Tautolo.