Hawaiian Army Reserve Command Is Nation's Most Diverse
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
DALLAS, Aug. 28, 1996 Resolving problems for families of deployed reservists of the 9th Army Reserve Command in Hawaii is an unusually difficult endeavor.
Some of the citizen soldiers live on Pacific islands thousands of miles from the former Sandwich Islands, said Al Balent, the command's family readiness and support coordinator.
"Our ethnic makeup makes us the most culturally diverse Army Reserve command in the country," Balent asserted. "We have a greater percentage of non-white personnel than any other reserve command. That's because Hawaii's population is heavily integrated with Oriental backgrounds, including Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, as well as Pacific islanders. Some are from the Northern Marianas, Guam and American Samoa."
Such diversity also makes the Hawaii-based 9th Army Reserve Command a gold mine of Asian and Pacific island languages. "We have native speakers of Tagalog, a Filipino dialect; Chinese Mandarin; Japanese; Korean; and a number of other Asian and Pacific islanders languages," Balent noted.
Different languages coincide with distinct cultural differences, which can create problems for family support coordinators if not handled gingerly, Balent said. "The reservist may be fluent in English, but the parents or grandparents may speak only the native language. If the service member leaves for training or is deployed, there may be difficulties."
Many reservists live long distances from commissaries, exchanges, medical care facilities and morale, welfare and recreation services, he pointed out. "We have to not only provide family support services, but provide them in a way the families are comfortable," Balent noted.
Howard Sugai, the command's public affairs officer, said every unit has its own family support group coordinator. "For example, our two rifle companies in Samoa have their own family support group coordinator," he said. "The same holds true for Saipan, Guam, Alaska and even units on the outer islands of Maui and Hawaii."
More than 30 spouses, unit commanders and family support coordinators gathered in Honolulu last March to discuss the role of family support groups and how to establish them, Sugai noted. Spouses were briefed on what to expect during a mobilization and training exercises.
Balent recalled having to arrange child care and for the caretaker to shop in the commissary and exchange while a single female parent, an Army specialist, was on annual training in a different location.
"This arrangement is commonplace and is a part of the family support group plan," Sugai said. "It's not uncommon for a designated caregiver in the reserve and active components to be allowed to shop for the single parent. But no special arrangements are made if the reservists live far away from the commissary or exchange. It's just a fact of life, not every reservist has the convenience of having these outlets nearby. We on Oahu are truly blessed with three major commissaries and three major exchanges within a 15-mile radius.
"We have units on Guam and Saipan," Sugai said. "However, we have two reservists who commute from the island of Rota to attend drills with their unit in Guam. We also have detachments in Alaska, Japan and Korea."
"We have two infantry companies in American Samoa, which is unlike any other culture you'll see," Balent said. "They use a village chief system (matai) instead of an elected mayor as we do in the states. The chief runs the village and makes decisions similar to the way a mayor does, except it's based more on bloodline. So we have to deal with the chief when we want to do something.
"Samoa is really big into extended families," Balent noted. "It's not uncommon for four generations to live in the same household. It's also not unusual for the reservists to be the primary bread winner. That usually impacts more than just the wife and child, because the reservist is supporting the entire extended family -- parents, grandparents -- as well.
"The American Samoan government is highly supportive and has a lot of pride in our units," he said. "We're the only American military unit in American Samoa."
Guam, the largest and southernmost island in the Mariana Archipelago -- 3,700 miles west of Honolulu -- has been a U.S. territory since the Spanish-American War in 1898. After the war, the Northern Marianas were a part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands and were administered by the United States.
In 1976, Congress approved a covenant that established the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The covenant was fully implemented by presidential proclamation in 1986.
Under the covenant, federal law applies except for minimum wage and immigration laws; the islands are not within the customs territory of the United States and the inhabitants determine their own tax structure.
English is the official language of the covenant. However, the people of the Northern Marianas are predominantly of Chamorro cultural extraction. A number of Carolinians -- Chuukese, Kosraeans, Pohnpeians and Yapese -- and immigrants from other areas of East Asia and Micronesia have also settled in the islands.
The family support office tries to ensure reservists and their families know what facilities are available and where they are, Balent noted. "We've been exploring producing an Army command handbook and we're looking at ways to get it published in other languages -- Korean, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and other languages," he said.
When reservists' families need help, family support coordinators often turn to active Army, Navy, Air Force and National Guard in Alaska, Guam and Hawaii for help. "Those folks know the needs best for people in the local areas," Balent said.