Polynesian Coaches Association Visit with Wounded Warriors
By Langford, Evelyn LTC USAR
Thursday, January 11, 2007
The 84th annual American Football Coaches Association convention that kicked off on January 7, 2007 was held in San Antonio, Texas and served as the culmination to the end of the football season for more than 6,000 football coaches who attended from high schools, colleges and universities all across the nation. Among those in attendance was a group of seventeen Polynesian coaches who took time out of their convention schedule to meet three Samoan wounded warriors currently recovering from their combat injuries at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.
The Chairman of the Polynesian Coaches Association, Mr. Alema Te’o, who also serves as the Camp Director for the Poly Camp, led this impressive group of coaches in a visit with the wounded warriors who are currently assigned to the Medical Hold Company at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston. The medical center serves as the Department of Defense’s only burn center and one of two Amputee Centers that receives casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The wounded warriors shared their experiences from the war and the accounts of what led to their injuries with the coaches, the soldier’s families and members of the Samoan community from Fort Sam Houston and San Antonio. Since the onset of the war five years ago, several hundred service members were medically evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan to the medical center to be treated for severe burns. Initially rocket-propelled grenades were the No. 1 cause of burns but after a year into the war, roadside bombs or an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) is now the leading cause of severe injuries and burns in Iraq.
Staff Sergeant Paau Jr received severe burn and blast injuries in Hajlash, Iraq, as a result of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) while on patrol in March 2006. The burns cover 67% of his body. Paau lost four of his men in the blast and was the only member of his team who survived the explosion. This was Paau’s second tour to Iraq. He desires to remain in the Army and continue with his military service. In December Paau was featured in an ABC Good Morning America segment on Remembering Wounded Warriors during the Holiday Season.
Sergeant Anesi Maverick Tuufuli’s combat wounds resulted in an above the knee amputation of his left leg, shrapnel wounds over various parts of his body and reconstruction of his Achilles tendon in his right leg. Tuufuli was serving his second combat tour when he was wounded in action in February 2005 while on a dismounted patrol from a roadside explosion caused by an IED in Taji, Iraq. He had only been in Iraq for less than a month. Tuufuli’s treatment and recovery has included an extensive array of services ranging from orthopedics, physical medicine and rehabilitation, occupational therapy, physical therapy and advanced prosthetics, all designed to help him to return to full activity.
Specialist Venasio Sele received severe burns to the left side of his face, head, left arm and left leg while on a convoy that was hit by an IED in April 2005. The attack continued further with a suicide bomber in a vehicle that hit a fuel tanker causing Sele to being thrown from his vehicle about half a mile away from the site of the explosion. Sele was serving his second combat tour. Despite the complications of his injuries, he still desires to remain in the military and is currently at a decision point for choosing a new career in the military. He and his wife Kiunileti also recently welcomed the arrival of a new family member with the birth of a baby girl.
After the soldier shared their stories, they thanked the coaches for taking time to visit with them and also expressed their gratitude to the local Samoan community for their continued support of them and their families. The Polynesian coaches then presented Paau, Tuufuli and Sele with t-shirts from their respective school and expressed their appreciation for their sacrifice and service.
The coaches included Legi Suiaunoa (Western Washington University), Donnell Leomiti (University of Colorado), Viliami Tuivai (Boise State), Alema Te'o (Bountiful High), Brian Cabral (University of Colorado), Iliasa Tuiaki (Kearns High), Jason Ah You (Snow College), Ricky Logo (Vanderbilt University), Aleki Pascua (Western Oregon State), Junior Pili (Snow College), James Graf (Texas A&M, Kingsville), Mike Fanoga (New Mexico State), Mosi Tatupu (Curry College), Saga Tuitele (Portland State), Dan Gerber (Snow College), Robert Anae (Brigham Young University), Solomona Tapasa (Western Oregon State), Mike Tuiasosopo (University of Arizona).