U.S. LAWMAKERS PRAISE AMERICAN SAMOA SOLDIERS

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PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, Jan. 10) - Several members of the U.S. Congress praised the service of American Samoa's sons and daughters in the military during a bipartisan congressional trip to the territory yesterday.

U.S. House majority leader Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md) led the delegation which were here for two hours as part of a tour of the Pacific region.

The group - which arrived via a federal government plane and included House minority whip U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and 10 other congressional members - were greeted by a local delegation led by Lt. Gov. Ipulasi A. Sunia.

The delegates include Reps. Ben Chandler, D-Ky.; Emmanuel Cleaver, D-Mo.; Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo.; Bob Etheridge, D-N.C.; Kay Granger, R-Texas; Baron Hill, D-Ind.; Ray LaHood, R-Ill.; John Lewis, D-Ga.; Debbie Wasserman Shultz, D-Fla.; and Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga.

The delegation was informed that Gov. Togiola Tulafono was unable to welcome them because he was in the hospital, and Hoyer then extended the group's best wishes to the governor for full recovery.

For security reasons details of the trip and their next destination was not revealed.

(The newspaper, The Australian, reported early this week that the delegation arrived in Australia over the weekend for meetings with the country's leadership. It says the delegation is on a tour of countries in the region including Vietnam and New Zealand.)

At the Tafuna airport, Ipulasi officially welcomed the dignitaries adding that he understands that the delegation is interested in learning more about American Samoans serving in the military.

He said American Samoans have served proudly in all branches of the military and there are about 400 Samoans serving in Iraq. He reminded the delegation that American Samoan has the highest Iraq fatality rate, per capital, than any other state in the nation.

"Our participation [in Iraq] is one of the things we are proud of," said Ipulasi, who noted that American Samoa is proud of its sons and daughters serving in the Middle East. He said American Samoa's patriotism is well known, with residents putting up yellow ribbons all over the island.

Ipulasi then introduced to the delegation his son, Army Pvt. Justin Sunia, who is serving in Iraq but is here on R&R.

To Pvt. Sunia, Hoyer said, "we're honored with your service" and noted that Faleomavaega has continued to fight hard for more benefits for veterans in American Samoa.

Besides the military, Hoyer said the US territories play important roles for the U.S., such as in economic development and other opportunities.

"You are the forefront, in the spear of our defense," he added.

In his brief remarks Blunt said, "We are grateful to the patriotism of Samoans in the military" not only in Iraq but other parts of the world fighting for democratic freedom.

Guam's Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, who has visited the territory before, said that Guam and American Samoa share "the same frustrations" especially being far away from the U.S. mainland. She also noted that Guam and American Samoa have also made great commitments to the military.

After the brief press conference just outside of the VIP lounge, the delegation walked around the airport looking at the Fale Samoa and talked to some members of the community who were there.

Hoyer was seen introducing himself and talking to several passengers waiting for flights to Apia. He also met a group of people from the mainland visiting the territory who were enroute to Apia.

Congressman Faleomavaega Eni, who was informed by Hoyer that the delegation would make a brief stop here, said he told Hoyer about the needs of local veterans and the patriotism of our people.

Faleomavaega, who is in Israel with a Pacific delegation, said in a statement Hoyer is "a good man, an honest leader, and a hard worker with an impressive record of achievement."

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