To Serve or Not to Serve

Updated: Mar 6

Deciding to serve in the U.S. military is a monumental decision after you have spent 12 years in school and are still not sure of what to do with your life. Some options include (in no specific order):

*joining the family business

When I was growing up in Am. Samoa, many businesses employed family members and they were expected to take on the family business one day. The family business wasn't always in retail but in the Samoan tradition, the family business included the family's high chief title and duties (for males); the maiden title and duties (for females); becoming a minister or minister's wife; etc., In the U.S., joining the family business often referred to running the retail (online or brick and mortar) enterprise. No matter the situation, if you have grown up around the family business, it almost becomes second nature for you to follow that path, but not always.

* taking time off to find yourself

The movie, "Eat, Love and Pray" comes to mind but I will keep referring first to my experience, growing up in Am. Samoa. There is no such thing as 'finding yourself' because as you come of age, it is expected that it happened naturally through the growing years and being a part of the family that automatically taught you how to be self-sufficient, problem-solve, and become independent. In my experience, I was immersed in the church at a very young age and I learned faith in God, respect, humility, integrity, a strong work ethic, cooperation, and being a proud Samoan. What I didn't learn was self-worth and respecting boundaries. I mentioned I learned to be a proud Samoan because that was where I grew up but I didn't grasp that I could be the President of the U.S.; a General; or a Nobel Peace prize winner, etc.. My self-worth was tied to accomplishments, i.e, getting a Ph.D.; retiring from military service; creating a big business; or anything that would anyI don't think my grandparents purposely set me up for failure but in the Samoan culture, you don't toot your own horn because it's seen as prideful and bragging. It is also a community environment where we share almost everything. I can remember going to a relative's house and my grandmother would compliment the host for her beautiful garden or clothes and as we left, the host had already wrapped up the item that was complimented, as a gift to my grandmother. On another trip to Hawaii, I saw my aunt compliment the host's house decorations and as we left, those items that got compliments, were wrapped up nicely and provided as gifts. On the flip side of this, if the guest refuses, out of consideration, it will be seen as disrespectful to the host. And should a host not offer the gift, it will be interpreted by the guest that this family is stingy. This practice continues in non-Americanized homes by Samoans as tradition. They believe that God provides and He takes away when you hoard things that should be shared. Samoan siblings share clothes, shoes, etc. because everything is communal. My own kids picked up this communal habit when I sent them home to live and grow up in my island home. When they returned from Am. Samoa, my son especially would be seen wearing my shirt without even asking. When I asked him about his "sticky hands", he said that he was just borrowing and I had to tell him that he needed to ask me first.

*joining the Peace Corps

The Peace Corps is a federal, volunteer organization perfect for those looking to gain work experience; find a challenge/adventure overseas; find a vocation, i.e., high school or college graduates; find a cause that needs your expertise; or for retirees who want to still serve in a volunteer capacity. Founded more than 50 years ago, the Peace Corps serves in 141 countries and have a host of opportunities aimed to help the country's most pressing needs. They are partnered with the public and private sector and volunteers do not need any work experience and are trained on their jobs up to two years; offered the standard federal employment benefits, to include 13-19 days vacation and 13 days sick leave annually; offered life and health insurance, offered retirement benefits and a 401K or tax-deferred savings plan; housed; fed; educated (college/university); paid transportation costs to and from the country. Volunteers can serve three-24 months at a time and are provided $10,000 (pre-tax) upon completion of two years for resettlement back into their home life.

*going to college

This was my first choice but I couldn't go against my family's wishes so I had to take college courses on active duty. It was so difficult trying to get to class, during lunch hour or after work, competing with social connections and balancing well-being.

*joining the U.S. military

This is choice is the number one thing that Samoans choose for their children. Pro-military for Samoans began during the colonization period, during the 1960's, especially when the U.S. Navy had a docking port in Am. Samoa, ,which brought in a lot of U.S. products and increased the social economic status. Samoans have never forgotten how much the military improved our land that they feel that the military provides the most opportunities for their children to succeed. The military will teach a trade and pay to train in a different one; pay wages; provide medical and dental insurance; provide housing; pay for college degrees up to a Masters and Ph.D. for needed skill sets; pay for certifications; exposure to different cultures through assignments; provide counseling services for almost anything; provide a pension, as early as 15 years; provide disability payments for service-connected injuries; provide a life-long community of military members; etc.


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