Army Officer Paves Way for Fellow Pacific Islanders
By Elaine Wilson
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, May 2, 2005 As people rise through the ranks, they are faced with more responsibility and added pressure to perform. While most leaders feel the heat only from their employees, Lt. Col. Evelyn Langford has more eyes upon her -- 70,000 sets, in fact.
Army Lt. Col. Evelyn Langford, assistant chief of staff for reserve affairs, visits Budge Dental Clinic at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Langford ensures dental support for mobilizing reservists and helps keep dental readiness a command priority. Photo by Elaine Wilson
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
As the first American Samoan woman to reach the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Army, Langford has the high expectations, and support, of an entire island.
"It's a great accomplishment, but I definitely feel the pressure," Langford said.
Langford always has been a "fast burner." Born at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., Langford and her five brothers and sisters traveled throughout the world during her father's Air Force career. When she turned 14, her father retired and moved the family to American Samoa to be near family and friends.
Situated in the South Pacific Ocean, about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, the island was, at first, a culture shock for the modern family.
"It was an adjustment at first," she said. "It's not like the mainland, not as modern. But my family built a nice home and I really appreciated learning about my culture." Langford breezed through school, skipping a grade and graduating at 16. Unlike most teens, Langford knew exactly what she wanted to do.
"I always wanted to be in the military," she said. "I grew up seeing how the military took care of my family; we never lacked for anything. My mother was always happy and content. I wanted to have something to do with it."
She took the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery -- the military entrance exam -- her senior year and aced it with the highest score on the island. An Army recruiter, the only military representative on the island, came knocking almost immediately.
"He suggested I join the Reserves and ROTC at college," Langford said. "I jumped at the opportunity." After two years at the local community college, she graduated with honors from Northwestern Oklahoma State University in 1986 with a biology degree and an Army commission in the Army Medical Service Corps.
She became a platoon leader, then a company commander, but was most proud of her stint as an Army instructor for the basic ROTC course - the first of its kind offered in American Samoa.
"There were a lot of opportunities to reach out to youth," she said. "Many of them were intimidated by the exams or finances and felt they couldn't achieve because of those reasons. I encouraged them to try, and let them know what the military could offer. I had to fight against a difficult mind-set."
Her quest proved successful. Four of her students earned basic ROTC scholarships and went on to the University of Hawaii and Army careers.
Langford went on to serve in staff positions, including her present job as the assistant chief of staff for reserve affairs here, where she ensures dental support for mobilizing reservists and helps to keep dental readiness a command priority.
A major career highlight, she said, was when she pinned on lieutenant colonel oak leaves in 2003 at a ceremony attended by the governor of American Samoa.
"It was an honor to have him come here," she said. "But with the visibility comes the expectations: Will she make the next rank?"
Langford said she is just grateful to have made it this far. "I have a lot of gratitude for the people who encouraged me along the way," she said. "I made mistakes and learned from them. If I'd let those things hinder me, I wouldn't be here. Great mentors were put in my path."
In turn, Langford also has assumed the role of mentor, particularly for American Samoans. She hopes her example will bring encouragement to others.
"I've seen very few American Samoan officers in the Army," she said. "There are so many more that could do very well in the military but don't even know the opportunities exist." She tries to share those opportunities through speaking engagements back home.
"Things have changed," Langford said. "There are other military service recruiters on the island now. And I'm seeing more American Samoans at military academies. Those advances wouldn't be possible without education."
She hopes her ongoing membership in Asian Pacific American Heritage committees will bring education to the community, as well.
"I enjoy bringing awareness of other cultures to the community," she said. "Most people have a limited knowledge of the many cultures under the Asian Pacific American umbrella. There are Koreans, Vietnamese, Asian Indian, Chinese and Japanese and about 30 more nationalities. It's not just hula dancers."
Although Langford has come a long way from American Samoa, the expectations and pressure of its people hit a lot closer to home.
"I'm going to go as far as I can," she said. "I always try my best for my family, but also for the island of American Samoa."
(Elaine Wilson is assigned to the Fort Sam Houston Public Affairs Office.)