“Service in the U.S. military is a generational tradition for Samoans and is a part of our makeup as a warrior people,” explains Capt. Soosoo Taulelei, a native of Malaeloa, American Samoa whose last name means “Great Warrior” in the Samoan language.
Taulelei is now an officer in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard and the director of personnel/services for the 111th Attack Wing in Horsham. Through his service here, and previously with the Washington Army National Guard, he strives to make his ancestors proud.
“Historically, Samoans all have a lineage of warriors in their ancestry,” said Taulelei. “So I don my uniform with pride and grit and know that I’m not just representing myself, but my family both past and present and every other Samoan service member before me who fought to pave the way so that my family could come to this great nation and live free in pursuit of happiness for generations to come.”
The numbers back up that tradition of military service on “that tiny island” in the South Pacific.
American Samoa has consistently enlisted more soldiers per capita than any other U.S territory or state and was ranked No. 1 out of 800 recruiting stations in 2021 and in years before that. All this, says Taulelei, from an island with a population of roughly 46,000 people total and the highest poverty rate nationwide on top of that.
“Samoans grow up knowing three things that are key in our lives: God, family and respect for all,” said Taulelei. “I grew up in the church, so embedded in me is the servant leader mentality meaning you cannot be a true leader if you’re not willing to serve others. Our culture also follows a hierarchy system similar to the military where our youth are the workers and our elders make all the decisions on how each family or village will move and operate. So it wasn’t hard to transition into the military because I practically lived that way my entire life.”
Though he started his career as an Army officer and despite the tradition of U.S. Army service among Samoans, Taulelei recently became an Air Force officer after transferring from Washington to the Pennsylvania National Guard and hasn’t looked back. In the Winter, he returned from a deployment to the Middle East.
“Having only been in the Air Force less than a year and deploying in a leadership role, I wanted to make sure I was ready for anything thrown my way and then Operation Allies Refuge in Afghanistan hit at the beginning of the deployment, so things got pretty intense,” said Taulelei. “We jumped into 24/7, 12- to 16-hour day operations, moved half the base population from one side of the base to the other, in order to make room for thousands of Afghan refugees and aircrew from all parts of the world to include, England, France, Italy and Canada to name a few.”
He says that stepping back on American soil after that deployment was a big sigh of relief. During the deployment, he gained a newfound appreciation for being American and having all the freedoms that are sometimes taken for granted.
With that newfound appreciation and a reason for him to keep putting on the uniform every day with pride, he carries on the legacy of U.S. military service among his people.
“After being in two branches of military service, I can say it’s been an extremely rewarding experience so far,” said Taulelei. “I’ve learned so much and hopefully passed on some positive vibes and knowledge to those I’ve served alongside. I do my best to show up and try to be the hardest worker I can be, to hopefully help or inspire someone for the better.”Read comments