ROTC program offers American Samoans a career head start

ROTC program offers American Samoans a career head start

Young residents of American Samoa are blazing trails toward successful careers in the military and private sector through the U.S. Army’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). A fixture since the early 2000s on the Pacific island U.S. territory, the two-year ROTC program of the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) prepares participants to further their studies and undergo military training at the University of Hawaii with the aim of becoming commissioned officers in the U.S. Army.

“I think it’s definitely beneficial for expectations and also opportunities,” Valentino Pase, a graduate of the program from American Samoa, told FORUM. “For many young Samoans, it’s their first exposure to even something close to being in the military, to learning they have that as an option.”

Thirty-three cadets enrolled in the college’s ROTC program in academic year 2018-2019. The cadets, pictured, take academic courses toward an associate degree in majors that include business management, pre-law, health, science and civil engineering technology. Successful completion of four courses in military science are also needed to advance to the second phase of the ROTC program, typically at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, ASCC’s partner institution, before the students can become commissioned Army officers.  

Instructors emphasize leadership, critical thinking, time and stress management, problem solving, communication, along with “dimensions of terrain analysis, patrolling, and operation orders,” according to the course curriculum. Enrollment has been on the rise, reported ROTC instructor Kitzingen Moliga in an ASCC news release.

“We’re trying to make the public more aware of the advantages of taking ROTC for any students interested in a military career,” Moliga said. “It’s true that any student can easily sign up with the Army as an enlisted man or woman, but if they take the ROTC route, they can also graduate from college with a four-year degree and a commission as an officer.”

Upon completion of ROTC training at the community college and university, Valentino Pase was commissioned as a U.S. Army lieutenant in 2011 and began a six-year career in military logistics that took him to Fort Knox, Kentucky, to Daegu, South Korea, and finally to Fort Lee, Virginia, his current home. As an Army officer, he managed equipment worth millions of dollars, supervised hundreds of Soldiers and ran the administration of complex long-term logistics operations. He eventually became an Army instructor at the Army Logistics University in Fort Lee. After an honorable discharge from the Army in 2019, Pase took the experience and skills he acquired in the Army into the private sector as a transportation supervisor with PepsiCo Inc.

His Army career braced the 33-year-old for his responsibilities at PepsiCo, where he manages teams of drivers, vehicles and outgoing inventory. 

“It definitely helped prepare me leadership-wise, as well as knowing how to be organized and to give clear and concise orders or instructions to the team,” he said. “It also helped with my confidence, which comes in handy because all the guys that work for me now tend to be a lot older than me.”

Pase hopes to eventually return to American Samoa. Many former U.S. Army officers from the Pacific island territory have done so, he explained, applying their military background to government, business, engineering and education. 

“Samoan parents are proud when their children join the military or go and get a scholarship to the ROTC program and become an officer,” he said. “I think it’s good for the future leaders of Samoa who go through this program.” 

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.