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Face of Defense: Samoan Teacher Becomes U.S. Soldier

By Army Sgt. Brandon Little
Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP TAJI, Iraq, April 21, 2008 – More than 10 years ago, Maranata Temese was an elementary school teacher living in American Samoa with his wife, Leaiseaiga, and their three children. Wanting to provide a better life for his family, he decided to join the military. But there was one problem: He was not a U.S. citizen.

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Army Staff Sgt. Maranata Temese, center, a platoon sergeant in Company G, Task Force 12, waits to receive his Certificate of Naturalization during a Multinational Corps Iraq naturalization ceremony at Camp Victory, Iraq, April 12, 2008. Temese, who was born in Samoa, has been trying to become a U.S. citizen since 2003. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Brandon Little

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American Samoa is a U.S. territory, and its natives have the same U.S. rights and privileges as natives of Guam and Puerto Rico. Temese’s wife and children were born in American Samoa. Temese, however, was born in the independent country of Samoa.

“When I walked into the recruiting office to ask if I could join the Army, I even told them my wife was a U.S. citizen,” said Temese, a platoon sergeant in Company G, Task Force 12. “The recruiter, knowing that I was from Samoa, told me no, I cannot join the Army. It was because of [biased views] held by some people born in American Samoa against people born in Samoa.”

His desire to provide a better life for his family through service in the military was now fueled by a determination to prove his recruiter wrong, he said. His next step was to write a letter to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and find out what he needed to do to join the Army.

“The USCIS wrote me back and told me the process I needed to follow [to get a visa] since I was married to a U.S. citizen,” he said. “After I filled out all the paperwork and they accepted my application, I received a quota number, and I was now able to move to the U.S. and live.”

Instead of moving to the United States, Temese took his paperwork and went back to that same recruiting station to see the recruiter who told him he couldn’t join the Army because he wasn’t a citizen.

“Now that I had a [visa], they wanted to help me,” Temese said. “After [the recruiter] made a few phone calls, he said, ‘You can join the military,’ And I told him I’d be more than happy to join.”

He enlisted as a light-wheeled-vehicle mechanic and deployed a few years later in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. By then his family had grown from three children to six children, and he had provided a better life for his family. But he was still not a U.S. citizen.

“Every time we went to the airport, I got stopped because of my island passport,” he said. “My wife got tired of waiting with the kids while I got checked, and she finally said, ‘This has got to stop; you need to get your citizenship and a U.S. passport.’”

He decided to talk to his chain of command and Task Force 12’s top enlisted soldier, Command Sgt. Maj. H. Lee Kennedy, to get help.

“While I was in Kuwait, waiting to enter Iraq, I saw [Kennedy] and explained my situation to him,” Temese said. “As soon as I asked for his help, he took out a piece of paper and pen and promised he would help make this happen for me. He was really on top of things.”

With a little persistence and a lot of help from soldiers working in the Task Force 12 legal office, Kennedy kept his promise. Temese was one of several soldiers in Task Force 12 to become a citizen during a Multinational Corps Iraq naturalization ceremony at Camp Victory on April 12.

“[Temese] is a very special soldier, and it was a real privilege to watch him walk across that stage and become a U.S. citizen,” Kennedy said.

Although his journey to citizenship may have taken a little longer than expected, Temese said his original goal of providing a better life for his family happened without delay and he tries to help others do the same.

“Every time I go back to my island, I go to the school I used to teach in and tell the children some of the things the Army has done for me,” Temese said. “I think they appreciate the information I give them, and some of them are actually joining the military. I know that by [serving in the Army] I am helping my country of Samoa be a better place, because the United States always tries to fight for little people who get overlooked -- just like my tiny island.”

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Related Sites:
Multinational Force Iraq
Multinational Corps Iraq

Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Staff Sgt. Maranata Temese, a platoon sergeant in Company G, Task Force 12, says he joined the Army to provide a better life for his family and to prove his recruiter wrong. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Brandon Little  
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