By Mason W. Canales
Killeen Daily Herald
The Samoan Congregational Christian Church held a farewell service at 1 p.m. Sunday for about 35 Samoans with the 9th Regional Readiness Command, a U.S. Army Reserve unit
headquartered in Hawaii and stationed in American Samoa.
"Whenever our people are about to embark on a journey, whether it be to a neighboring village, a neighboring island or across the ocean, those that are staying behind will pray for those on the journey," noted the Rev. Menise Sasa, of the Samoan Congregational Christian Church, on the program for the service.
"That is their covenant: You will go for us and we will pray for you. This holds especially true for those we send off to war," Sasa said.
The reserve soldiers, who have been at Fort Hood for training, are set to deploy to Iraq in early August.
About 300 people attended the service to help send off the American Samoan soldiers who have been be training at Fort Hood for almost two months. Some guest donned vibrant floral shirts and skirts displaying their heritage and contrasting with the drab camouflage that covered about a sixth of the pews in the First Cavalry Memorial Chapel on Fort Hood.
"It was a great turnout, and that is what we wanted," said Al Sasa, who helped organize the event. "We wanted people from our community here to send them off."
The farewell services included prayers, a speech from U.S. Congressman Faleomavaega Eni, a roll call announced by Sgt. 1st Class Tea Pomale of the 9th Regional Readiness Command, scripture readings, and the singing of "Tama Samoa."
"We all wish as humans, especially as soldiers, to have a set plan. When do we go out and when do we come back?" asked Sasa during his service.
"Go with God's peace, go with the blessings of God," he added.
Participants in the service seamlessly switched between the English and Samoan language, as part of Samoan tradition. Sasa gave words of encouragement in both languages as he read different Bible verses.
"To hear a word of encouragement from the reverend is a relief," said Spc. Valentino Pase, of the 9th Regional Readiness Command, after the service.
Some of the soldiers will not see their families for more than a year due to the training deployment to Fort Hood and their subsequent deployment to Iraq, Pomale said.
Pomale said he and other Sampoan soldiers were happy to feel so welcomed at Fort Hood and to be among its Samoan Community.
"This is our third time at this service," Pomale said, noting he and his friends attend the Samoan services when they are not training.
"We are pleased that we have such an active Samoan Community."
This is the first time a reserve unit from American Samoa has been sent to Fort Hood for training, Sasa said. He wanted them to feel like they were at home in the Texas Samoan Community.
"It makes you feel great to know you have family members and friends being supportive," Pase said, tucked into a chair at luncheon that followed the service at the Harker Heights Event Center. The departing soldiers were served various native Samoan dishes to complete the farewell.
Samoans like Fatu Tauanou, a staff sergeant stationed at Fort Irwin, Calif., made arrangements to attend the sendoff service. Others came from San Antonio, Dallas, and even the island of American Samoa.
Tauanou was on leave visiting family in Copperas Cove when he heard that there was going to be a sendoff for the Samoan Unit. He requested a leave extension so he could attend the farewell service.
"It is very important to do this," Tauanou said. "It is a way of our customs, that we do this before any type of deployment."
Contact Mason W. Canales at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7554