HONOLULU— Soldiers of the 9th Mission Support Command Task Force Oceania’s Pacific Augmentation Team-Tonga conducted a civil engagement with Tongan scholarship students from Brigham Young University-Hawaii at the Polynesian Cultural Center in June. The meeting gave the Soldiers insight into the lives of the citizens of the Kingdom of Tonga, a Polynesian kingdom made up of more than 170 islands located in the South Pacific.
"These engagements are great on many levels. Most importantly, we get to know many wonderful people and build relations that will last for many years. Furthermore, it continues to build the relationship between the countries that has existed for many years,” said Capt. Daniel Thomassian, the team leader of PAT-Tonga. “Another great outcome from these engagements is to identify concerns of the Tongan people that can transition into viable projects in the future."
The meeting took place at the Polynesian Cultural Center’s Islands of Tonga, where Soldiers assisted the cultural specialist of the Islands of Tonga with the preparation of Lu Pulu, a Tongan dish which contains taro leaves, coconut milk, onions, and canned corn beef.
The members of the Islands of Tonga at the Polynesian Cultural Center are part of BYU-Hawaii’s scholarship program called IWORK, - International Work Opportunity Return-ability Kuleana - a program to assist students from the Pacific Rim in obtaining education at BYU-Hawaii.
The students discussed a variety of themes with the Soldiers, including the spread of COVID-19 misinformation, improving medical readiness and mental health, and improving critical infrastructure across the islands.
The Soldiers of Task Force Oceania are trained in Civil Affairs operations. Civil Affairs operations consist of a multitude of tasks with a primary emphasis on engaging with the civilian population. Oceania is one of the largest and most diverse regions in the world, with each Pacific Island Country having its own host of distinct problems and challenges that require unique solutions. The highly trained Soldiers of Task Force Oceania, with their experience in Civil Affairs operations are especially well-suited to work with the civilian population within these Pacific Island Countries to find the solutions that best suit their assigned country.
Sgt. Alavoni Tukunga, a member of Pacific Augmentation Team-Tonga, and a Soldier of Tongan decent, said she believes these civil engagements, which are designed to better understand the people of Tonga, are important to the mission of Task Force Oceania.
“You don’t want to go to a country that you do not know and you’re trying to build relations and you end up offending them,” she said. “Everyone in the Pacific, although it’s a bit similar, everyone has their own different way of living.”