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NEWS | Aug. 30, 2016

Army Reserve Soldier Lepou leaves home, brings back gold

By Staff Sgt. Chanelcherie DeMello 303rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade

GLENDALE, Colo. -- U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Setu T. Lepou, combat engineer, 303rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, 9th Mission Support Command, received a gold medal after the All-Army rugby team won the 2016 U.S. Armed Forces Rugby Sevens Championship, Infinity Park, Glendale, Colo., Aug. 27. 

Lepou and his fellow Soldier athlete team members, Maj. Nate Conkey, Cpt. Andrew Locke, Sgt. Mattie Tago, Sgt. Anthony Welmers, 1st Lt. Will Holder, Sgt. Faleniko Spino, Cpt. Dave Geib, Sgt. Gerald Saafi, Spc. Mike Melendez, Pfc. Solomone Kepa, and Spc. Rocco Mauer, battled their way to the top against other Soldier athlete teams from the Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy during the two-day Armed Forces division of the 2016 Serevi Rugby Town Sevens tournament. 

All-Army dominated with a 55-5 victory over the All-Air Force team, naming them champions for a fourth consecutive year. 

“Our game plan was to pressure the Air Force into situations they would be uncomfortable in and force disruptions in their patterns of play,” said retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Nicholas L. Punimata, All-Army assistant coach. “We focused abilities to put pressure based on our fitness levels that allowed us to dictate the pace of the match which the Air Force couldn’t keep up with,” he articulated.

 “I’m grateful to be given this opportunity to train and learn from these professionals,” said Lepou. “All of these guys have talent and experience to offer,” he added. 

Playing Rugby has been a long-time passion for Lepou as he recalls his childhood days of playing rugby with family and neighborhood friends.

"We played rugby where ever we could and with whatever we could find, even if it meant using a slipper (foot wear) as the ball," he said.   

Winning marked a significant achievement in many ways for Lepou. 

Having left his home and his sick mother in Honolulu, Hawaii, Lepou headed to Camp Williams, Riverton, Utah, on Aug. 13, for rugby training and has been preparing for this moment.

“I appreciate my mom and dad for all their support,” said Lepou. “I made sacrifices…small ones, he added, but I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for their encouragement and nurturing,” he said. 

The uplift that Lepou received from his family and friends in Hawaii and American Samoa was more than he could have asked for, even his team mates shared inspirational words with the first-time All-Army recruit. 

“Take one game at a time and play every game like it’s your last game,” said Pfc. Solomone Kepa, Joint Base Langley, Eustis Va.

Michael Melendez, Fort Richardson, Anchorage, Ala., says the game of All-Army rugby is about playing your heart out, working hard and showing why you are meant to be a part of the All-Army team. 

Head coach, Col. Mark Drown, explains that a key element to these Soldier athlete’s success in becoming a part of the All-Army rugby team lay within the Soldier’s units. Having been a U.S. military member for 29 years, Drown encourages commanders to allow their Soldiers to participate.

“Winning the fourth Championship is about representing the Army family, Active, Guard, and Reserve,” stated Drown. “I want to thank all the commanders for releasing their Soldiers to compete for Army rugby and their families for supporting this effort, Go Army!” he added. 

Lepou says he will never forget the lessons and relationships received from this opportunity.

“It’s (the experience) about being able to take back home what I have been given an opportunity to learn,” said Lepou. “I want to get better and come back next year to represent All-Army and do what I love – play rugby!”