'The path to leadership is through service'

By Maj. Walter Rudy FuataMay 14, 2024

Maj. Walter “Rudy” Fuata and family pose for a photo at then-Fort Bragg, North Carolina, circa 1984.
Maj. Walter “Rudy” Fuata and family pose for a photo at then-Fort Bragg, North Carolina, circa 1984. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

My name is Maj. Walter “Rudy” Fuata. I was born in Fort Bragg, now Fort Liberty, North Carolina into a family with a legacy of service to this great nation. My father and three brothers served and completed their military obligations in the United States Army. I grew up in American Samoa and knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a Soldier. Between playing Army in the jungles with my plastic combat knife and building tree houses and traps with my father’s Vietnam-era TA-50, my path was clear. I can attribute this call to service to the influence of my father’s stories as a Green Beret and Vietnam War veteran. As the youngest of five children, fate placed me in a vantage point that allowed me to soak lessons learned before navigating the rough waters ahead of me.

My upbringing in the Samoan culture coupled with my Christian faith made the transition to the United States Army smooth because of parallels that existed between both worlds. If I had to choose one word, respect would be the cornerstone of Samoan culture. “O le ala I le pule o le tautua” is an old Samoan adage that means, “The path to leadership is through service.” You cannot operate or function effectively in society if you do not show or have respect for elders, peers, the less fortunate and those in positions of authority.

Retired Master Sgt. Pepa P. Fuata, the father, hero and inspiration to Maj. Walter “Rudy” Fuata.
Retired Master Sgt. Pepa P. Fuata, the father, hero and inspiration to Maj. Walter “Rudy” Fuata. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

Respect is earned through service and no business can be conducted if trust is not established first. Leaders earn that trust by being a good follower first and aspiring leaders must possess humility and empathy to secure this sacred bond. Both qualities are engrained into young men and women that practice the Christian faith in Samoa. This is no foreign concept in the Army, especially for leaders at any level.

Soldiers respect those leaders that have earned their trust. Earning that trust is a tall order, and it requires a combination of soft and hard skills that can only be gained in the crucibles of shared hardships in the daily grind, training or deployments.

In one of my quests to build trust, I found myself in key leader engagements with Iraqi Police in 2007-2008 while on a military transition team as a police operations advisor. Building rapport and trust with host nation leaders was paramount before operations or training events could commence.

Maj. Walter “Rudy” Fuata participates in Operation Lion's roar in Southeast Baghdad during summer 2008.
Maj. Walter “Rudy” Fuata participates in Operation Lion's roar in Southeast Baghdad during summer 2008. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

Taking the time to learn just enough of the Arabic language to get by, playing pick-up soccer games with locals and eating the local cuisine was worth its weight in gold in the long run. This small token of respect enabled opportunities for dialogue and habitual working relationships with our host nation counterparts and local leaders. Establishing this trust built the mutual respect with our Iraqi counterparts that we direly needed when patrolling contentious areas of Baghdad.

Most people probably think of football players or professional wrestlers when they think of American Samoa. Let me assure you there is much more to Samoa than those highlighted in the entertainment industry.

In the Samoan culture, your surname is your crown and family jewel. You honor that surname and your bloodline through service in any capacity that you see fit. The lure and appeal of the United States military to a young Samoan comes from its storied past filled with selfless, courageous, honorable and brave service members sacrificing for ideals and a cause much larger than any one person. Larger than life personalities and storied units such as the Rangers and Green Berets on the silver screen in blockbuster movies has also played a huge role in the lure of military life and the associated challenges that come with it.

Maj. Walter “Rudy” Fuata  participates in x-spray training and certification for Iraqi National Police in May, 2008.
Maj. Walter “Rudy” Fuata participates in x-spray training and certification for Iraqi National Police in May, 2008. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

Military service is a difficult but honorable path that comes with prestige and respect that is not lost on the people of the Samoan islands. Samoan people come from a deep-rooted warrior culture of its own and military service is one of the highest honors to give back to your family.

Although far removed from the days of warring clans in the Pacific, military service is a team and contact sport much like the NFL in several ways. Everyone has a position with its own unique responsibilities and intricacies. Mastering those individual crafts is crucial to success in team sports because it is a collective effort. When individuals aren’t putting forth maximum effort, leaders emerge to identify deficiencies, harness talent and channel the team’s energy towards the objective. While individual performances are applauded and encouraged, it is the team effort that makes the sacrifices worthwhile and ensures our teammates and loved ones are safe. While the stakes of an NFL game are far less than that of a service member in a time of uncertainty and conflict, they intersect at pride and service to others.

Maj. Walter “Rudy” Fuata conducts a joint security patrol with Iraqi National Police in Salman Pak, Iraq, December 2007.
Maj. Walter “Rudy” Fuata conducts a joint security patrol with Iraqi National Police in Salman Pak, Iraq, December 2007. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

Having served in all three components — Army National Guard, the active component and the Army Reserves — I have gained a wide range of problem-solving skills and perspectives from diverse groups of professionals in the maneuver, protection, logistics and Intelligence communities.

I have leveraged these experiences to seek opportunities off the beaten path to make lasting and meaningful contributions to protect our homeland from legacy and emerging threats. My most recent deployment to the CENTCOM area of responsibility in support of Operation Inherent Resolve as a forensics laboratory officer in charge exposed me to an obscure side of the Army known for its razor-sharp focus on force protection.

 Maj. Walter “Rudy” Fuata, official Army portrait.
Maj. Walter “Rudy” Fuata, official Army portrait. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

I cannot say enough about the spirit and professionalism of the men and women from all components and branches serving in those capacities to protect the homeland. That deployment opened the door to my current assignment as an operations officer in the Defense Forensics and Biometrics Agency. My current duty assignment allows me to apply my expertise in a collaborative environment to create viable solutions to complex problems that ultimately benefit the warfighters in harm’s way.

I have proudly served with my fellow country men and women in my travels across the globe in duty stations and combat zones alike. The common ground we share in the love of country, honor and desire to serve a higher purpose brings to the force a diverse group of patriots ready to stand and deliver on behalf of this great nation for generations to come.