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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, March 30) – Governor Togiola Tulafono says the idea of establishing an Army National Guard in American Samoa has received the support of Washington D.C., but logistical issues need to be addressed and discussions are underway including other alternatives.

The establishment of a unit in the territory first came to the attention of Samoa News while Togiola was en route to Washington D.C. meetings late last month, stopping first in Honolulu to meet with Adjutant General of the Hawaii National Guard, Robert Lee, for the establishment of a unit in Pago Pago.

Togiola said at the time that one of meetings in Washington was with General Blum, head of the Army National Guard for his input and support of this proposal, which the Governor says the general is lending support.

"We have the support of the National Guard unit in Washington D.C. ," Togiola told Samoa News during a interview at his office last week when asked for an update on this issue. "The Commanding General has lent his support."

"However, the logistical issues are the ones that we have to work out," the Governor noted. "Because we have been advised one of the obstacles right now is money."

"In order for another unit of the National Guard to start, a budget has to be approved for it, by the U.S. Congress," he explained. "So it's not like, that we can just ask the Army for a unit and they'll come here and set it up. It's unlike the Army Reserve."

"And it's an issue for us too, because it's a 50-50 share. So, in our own backyard, we have to commit consistent funding in order to maintain the unit. I think we can handle ours here, but Congressional appropriations are going to be difficult," the Governor points out. "So we have all agreed that we are all going to jointly investigate how it may be done."

However, the Governor was quick to point out that there is an option that can be explored and he has already briefly discussed the matter with Hawaii's Governor Linda Lingle.

"There is one avenue that we are looking at, probably joining with the National Guard in Hawaii with a certain detachment unit in American Samoa, which we have proposed to the National Command and they are supportive of it," said Togiola.

"This relates to certain response units, stationed in American Samoa and could be deployed from American Samoa, as a way of starting our involvement with the National Guard," he said. "So that's being developed right now."

Togiola said he has already spoken to General Lee in Hawaii, "He supports the idea for a detachment unit here, a specialized unit, a responses unit for the purpose of weapons of mass destruction. It could be a significant presence."

"I have had a short discussion with Gov. Lingle and she has indicated that she likes the idea, and we need to develop a plan to give to her," Togiola added.

However, Togiola said the issue now is the legality of under whose orders or authority would the local detachment unit activate or deploy.

"We are looking at the legality of the delegation of authority, because the National Guard is subject to the order of a Governor," Togiola explains. "So this being the Hawaii National Guard, it's subject to the order of Gov. Lingle."

"Now, we are trying to work out a way, that for this detachment unit in American Samoa, delegated powers are given to the territorial governor, the Governor of American Samoa who can issue the order of deployment on certain purposes," he noted.

"Of course when it comes to national involvement, we have to revert back to that executive authority, which the Hawaii governor will have the authority. We are working on those issues now," the Governor added.

Togiola said he is pushing for the establishment of a local National Guard, also, because the soldiers will become employed and "actually this is going to provide more employment locally, so that's one of the reasons."

"And secondly, at times of disasters, or support of local police, the governor can deploy the national guard, to assist, which is part of the reason we are looking at that," Togiola continued, and noted that it's not just a plan at this point nor is it a substitution for the local U.S. Army Reserve unit.

"Given the deployments today, the Reserve are probably going to end up being deployed away from here for a substantial length of time," said the Governor, referring to the recent deployment of local reservists to the Middle East.

"We are also looking at establishment of a local unit, now that the military is developing specialized military police units that are national guards," said Togiola. "So that's another avenue that we're looking at and maybe we should train military police from this national guard detachment."

According to the Governor, the military is beginning to look at creating these types of specialize units that can be deployed to active military police for military installations abroad.

"Those are some of the issues that got me thinking, that maybe this is what we should look into and carry it out," he said. "So those are all the various reasons for establishing a National Guard or detachment unit in the Territory."

A senior local government official told Samoa News over the weekend, that this idea of the Governor's did not just surface this year but has been on his mind for a long time.

The official, who was responding to Samoa News asking if this is an election ploy, said, "I'm sure it's going to be construed as one, but this has been in the works for a long time, as the local government was looking at many ways to assist not only the local economy but in times of emergency situations."

The official said that in many states, the National Guard is activated by the governor of the state, to assist police and other law enforcement agencies, in time of natural disasters (e.g., hurricane) and other emergency situations.

April 6, 2004

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