FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii –
A team from the U.S. Army Pacific’s Taskforce Oceania (TFO) returned from mission to Guam where they focused their efforts on providing support to the peoples of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), on July 7, 2021.
Since the return of the FSM Team, Task Force Oceania has been renamed to Operation Pacific Island Countries (OPIC).
"Our job is to go out to these island countries and try to evaluate and assist our partner nations, while we try to expand the U.S. military's role in the region, as a partner," said shared U.S. Army Reserve Capt. Theodore Donahue. Donahue is the officer-in-charge (OIC) for the FSM team. "We are out there to assess how can we, as U.S. military personnel, go out and have positive effects on the communities that we plan on operating in more in the upcoming weeks, months, and years," Donahue added.
Donahue and his team coordinated with the U.S. Ambassador to FSM Carmen Canter upon arriving in Guam, in order to streamline the mission efforts.
"We've been linked in very tightly with her, helping doing food drives in Guam, for people from the FSM that have not been able to reenter the country due to the COVID (-19) closing," Donahue said, "We've been tied in with her and the CDC (Center for Disease Control) trying to work on messaging campaigns for vaccination drive efforts within the FSM."
In accordance with the Compact of Free Association treaty, the U.S. military acts as the army and the defense of the FSM, as well as several other pacific island nations, since they do not have a military of their own. The Army provides aid to the civil components, meeting the demands of the host nation.
"Because they don't have a military of their own, a lot of the needs that the country has aren't related to 'How do you train my soldiers to become better at fighting wars?'." Donahue stated. "It becomes 'How do you help train my nurses to become better at administering shots?'."
U.S. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Tarsis Harper accompanied Donahue and Team FSM's mission to Guam, as the team's cultural liaison, providing great aid to the mission efforts due to his familiarity and knowledge of the language and culture.
"I feel like I am really blessed to be chosen to be apart of this mission for TFO (Task Force Oceania)," Harper said, "I am from that area and I know I can bring a lot to the table because I know the people there, and I have ties to the culture, and I speak the language as well."
It's common for residents of the islands that make up the FSM to prefer to converse with someone who can speak the languages and dialects of their home, such as Harper who is originally from the FSM.
"When they see a person who is not from their region, they're not going to be more open to dialogue," Harper clarified. "Whereas myself, if I speak the language, they will be like, 'Oh, you speak the language? Let's (have) dialogue."
OPIC uses the diversity it has within the ranks of the Army Reserve to help foster these relationships with the people of the island nations it operates out of. The value in having Soldiers who not only understand the way of life on these islands, but also have familial and cultural ties, can not be overstated.
"You're able to become welcomed to the community faster. They're able to see you as not just an outsider promising them the moon and back, or perhaps telling them how they should live their lives, but they see it as a partnership," Donahue added. "It's together that we're going to make anything positive (in the FSM) happen."