By Christina Douglas, 9th Mission Support CommandSeptember 30, 2010
PAGO PAGO, American Samoa - On the morning of Sept. 29, 2009, four, massive waves ripped through the hearts and homes of local communities throughout the island of Tutuila.
"I won\'t forget that day; I had never seen something like that before - not in my whole life," said Sgt. 1st Class Tata Aga, 42, who had just weeks before returned from a year-long deployment where he led convoys in the desert.
When the sea calmed, Aga's two-bedroom, shoreline home lay in ruins. There was no power, no potable water and food that would only last a couple of days. While going through the wreckage, Aga came across his ocean-soaked uniform and laid it out to dry. He teamed with neighbors to care for those in need. Then, just days after the devastating tsunami that left 34 dead, Aga donned his uniform, left his house in shambles, and went into the Army Reserve center, where he assisted with organizing disaster relief efforts to help out the most critically-affected villages in need.
Aga was one of 49 U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers from the 9th Mission Support Command honored in a Humanitarian Service Medal Award presentation, Sept. 29, at the Sergeant First Class Pele Army Reserve Center here. In the ceremony, U.S. Army Reservists from the historic 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment; the 411th Engineer Battalion's Forward Support Company; the Theater Support Group; and the 127th Chaplain Detachment were recognized for providing disaster relief efforts immediately following the tragic 2009 tsunami.
Roughly one-third of the Soldiers providing disaster relief efforts had homes which had suffered significant damage or had been completely destroyed, and yet these Soldiers persevered, said Brig. Gen. Michele G. Compton, commanding general, 9th Mission Support Command. They did what needed to be done to help others. They carried on, placed the mission first and didn't quit.
Following the 8.3-magnitude earthquake that resulted in the devastating tsunami waves, Soldiers from the 9th MSC sprung into action to support their brothers and sisters in arms and the local American Samoan community.
Throughout the day and night, Army Reserve Soldiers used what they had available to help, including their own ingenuity. They looked for survivors, cleared debris and offered a hand where ever they could, said Compton. As the first U.S. federal responders, the 9th MSC became the lead in reporting to U.S. Army, Pacific, and transformed the U.S. Army Reserve Center in American Samoa (Tutuila's only standing federal military installation) into a hub for all military responders. The Soldiers conducted ground assessments and provided other crucial information that facilitated the larger response effort that would eventually come.
During the days of relief assistance that followed, the Soldiers supported the Federal Emergency Management Agency's missions to include the American Red Cross by moving critical supplies to villages that were hit the hardest. Soldiers also continued to provide search and recovery operations, medical care to civilians, and conducted massive debris removal across Tutuila. This was part of a total joint force effort as active duty, Reserve, and National Guard service members from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard combined their resources to provide a wide range of emergency response capabilities, to support the lead U.S. government agency, FEMA, as it addressed requirements from the local government in the villages of Pago Pago and Leone.
American Samoa Lt. Gov. Faoa Sunia, the ceremony's guest speaker, said that the Soldiers were heroes in his mind. Support came so quickly that the citizens almost didn't have time to mourn, he said. Sunia then looked at the Soldiers and said, "All you had were your hands and your kind hearts ... on behalf of the people of the community, we are very grateful."
The Humanitarian Service Medal is awarded to members of the U.S. Armed Forces who distinguish themselves by meritorious participation in a Department of Defense-approved significant military act or operation of a humanitarian nature. The HSM for Operation Pacific Wave was authorized earlier this year by the Department of Defense for service members who directly participated in the humanitarian efforts in American Samoa.
The 9th Mission Support Command is a U.S. Army Reserve command under the operational control of U.S. Army Pacific. The Reserve command plays a key role in U.S. Pacific Command's Joint Task Force-Homeland Defense.