Monday, August 05, 2013

Island Soldiers

This Thursday at 6 pm at the Dededo Senior Center I'll be on a panel to discuss a rough cut of the documentary "Island Soldier." The film by Nathan Fitch is about the experiences of FSM Citizens who serve in the US military. I have been hearing about this film for quite a while from its director and I'm very excited to see what he has created. Micronesia is often dismissed by the world due to its smallness and its distance from places that are considered to be naturally important. What can there be of value here expect for those things which people associate with smallness, isolation and getting away from the "real" world.

But one thing that this part of the world and the American Empire can claim is to have overwhelming per capita enlistment statistics in the US military. It is something that anyone who knows the United States in terms of its statistics or numerical reality is aware of, but is unsure how to process. The collection of islands that the US either has or dominates in Micronesia make up the area which has sacrificed the most bodies (per capita) for the most recent wars of the US and serve (per capita) in the highest numbers as well.

When I was in San Diego and met with people working on counter-recruitment people knew about Guam and spoke of it in tentative ways, as if unsure about what to make of what little they knew about it. For such a small island to have such a serious military presence in terms of percentage of land, but also to have such high recruitment numbers, made people wonder if Guam was a real place or just a place made from the fantasies of military planners and recruiters. Just last month a PBS crew was on Guam to take up the issue of Chamorros serving in the military in such high numbers. They interviewed me at the Asan Memorial Overlook.

Although Guam is the part of this dynamic that I talk the most about (siempre nai), it is only one component. I am excited to see what this film will bring to the conversation.

I have pasted below a short article from PNC and another one from the PDN. Take note of the title of the PDN piece, "all they can be." It is a very telling sort of title. Accidental of course, but if you think on it too long it is kind of messed up.

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"Island Soldier"
Pacific News Center
July 24, 2013

Guam - Filmmaker Nathan Fitch will host a community screening of the rough cut of ISLAND SOLDIER, a new documentary that explores the impacts of the military service of the citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia in the US Armed services.  Though intimate portraits of Micronesian citizens, the narrative follows a small, tight-knit cast of characters on a journey that takes them thousands of miles from their families and homes in search of professional, economic, and educational opportunities.  In addition to the active duty soldiers, the film also gives a voice to the other Micronesian stakeholders who are being directly affected by the current wars.

The 30-minute screening will be followed by a facilitated panel discussion to engage the audience in a conversation around the topics that ISLAND SOLDIER addresses.  The panel will include Francis X. Hezel, SJ, Michael Lujan Bevacqua, PhD, and Staff Sergeant Palik Asher.   The event is free and open to the public and will take place on Thursday, August 8,  from 6-9 pm at the Dededo Senior Center.

Nathan Fitch is currently an MFA candidate at Hunter College in New York City and is a former Peace Corps volunteer.   As a freelance photographer and filmmaker, Nathan was worked for publications including TIME, ESPN, The New York Times, NPR and various others.  Nathan is a member of the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective.

The production of ISLAND SOLDIER has been made possible in part by funding from Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC) and a grant from the Guam Humanities Council (GHC) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).  Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of PIC, GHC, or NEH.

For more information, contact Nathan Fitch at fitch.nathan@gmail.com

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All they can be: Documentary Explores FSM Citizens in the Army
Lacee Martinez
PDN
August 4, 2013

It's been nearly 30 years since Walter Asher left his home in Kosrae as part of the Compact of Free Association that enabled him to pursue an education at the University of Guam. Just a couple of years into his studies, he was persuaded to join the Army after hearing about the benefits he could have in addition to his education.
Today, Asher is a staff sergeant and recruiter for the Army, with a detail to recruit members of the Federated States of Micronesia and other parts of the Pacific.
In recent years, there's been an increase in FSM citizens and other Pacific islanders interested in leaving their home for military service, despite not being U.S. citizens.

Documentary

Next week, you can catch a documentary, which explores the issues FSM citizens face when joining the U.S. military.
Filmmaker Nathan Fitch will screen a rough cut of "Island Solider," followed by a panel discussion with Asher and other members of the island's community.
Fitch is a former Peace Corps volunteer who spent time in Micronesia before starting his documentary.
The film follows a handful of FSM citizens leaving their homes in the Pacific, seeking economic, educational and professional opportunities in the military.
Fitch is a master of fine arts candidate at Hunter College in New York and has worked for National Public Radio, Time magazine and other publications. On his third week in Kosrae, the issue of FSM citizens in the military came to him.
"I was walking down this really remote beach where they didn't even have electricity in the village and I walked by this guy who was in camouflage coming back from furlough from Iraq," he says. "I was really kind of amazed that he would go from Iraq back to this really pristine beautiful place. It was kind of the initial impetus of this film."
After his Peace Corps service, Fitch would visit friends from the Micronesian community, many who were at military bases such as Fort Lewis in Seattle, and others.
"It kind of evolved by visiting these Micronesian communities," he says. "Then I started filming. There's a group of young guys that I interviewed over the last year as they joined, so it's going to be their story and then sort of weave in veterans reflecting on their military service. I'm really interested in the impact of this sort of mass migration and the impact current wars are having in Micronesia."
Fitch also was in Kosrae last year during the funeral of Sgt. Sapuro B. Nena, who was killed in action while in Afghanistan.

Back to the military

Asher completed his required military service time, then went back to Kosrae.
"I worked for the state government for eight straight years, but the pay wasn't able to support me and my family," he says.
So Asher decided to go back into the military. He's currently working as a temporary recruiter on Guam. His usual recruiting stomping grounds are in Palau and the FSM.
FSM citizens are joining the military for the same reasons he did -- mostly for the education benefits.
In June, there were 31 Army recruits out of Kosrae and Pohnpei, and three from Yap. In July, there were 13 recruits out of Palau and five from Yap.
"Some will join right after high school for the tuition assistance programs and some will go to college for a little bit," he says. "But most don't even finish (at the College of Micronesia) and they'll start calling us for appointments."

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