PAGO PAGO, American Samoa - Imagine driving to work on a nice sunny day and learning that your hometown has just been shaken by an earthquake with the magnitude of 7.9. Naturally, you would be little nervous because you would think of your family and friends.
Sept. 29 was a harsh reality and not just the imagination of Tech. Sgt. Gloria Lafitaga, a member of the 154th Medical Group of the Hawaii Air National Guard.
Lafitaga, who now lives in Kunia, Hawaii, grew up in Fagasa, American Samoa. That day the island was shaken by an earthquake and slammed by a tsunami. Upon learning of the news, Lafitaga was immediately worried.
"I was devastated when I first heard the news because my family was here and I hadn't heard from them initially," she said. "My grandmother lives along the shore line and I know that she doesn't walk so well, so I was really relieved once I knew she and other family members were okay."
After Lafitaga knew her family was safe and accounted for, she wanted to help in some way. To her good fortune, her unit was called on to support American Samoa in a relief effort. She was one of the first to volunteer.
"Once my family was okay, I wanted to help where I could," said Lafitaga. "I was an instant volunteer and excited at the opportunity to give back. I was able to find information about family members for friends who couldn't go back to American Samoa."
Lafitaga saw news reports and listened to radio newsbreaks prior to leaving for American Samoa; therefore she had no idea what she was going to see once she arrived.
"When I arrived, I was nervous and didn't know what to expect or how I would react once I saw the destruction of the island," said Latifaga.
Latfitaga is a member of the CBRNE Enhanced Repsonse Force Package (CERFP) team, which is comprised of a decontamination unit; a medical element; and a search and extraction element. She is part of the medical element and had the opportunity to use her skill set when she returned. Her unit is a quick response force that responds and assesses damages and initiates many early procedures in situations like this.
The Hawaiian Army and Air National Guard arrived within a day of the disaster. Lafitaga along with her military family, the men and women of the 93rd Civil Support Team and the 154th Medical Group hit the ground running.
Lafitaga had the opportunity to meet with family members upon arrival and was greeted with hugs and feelings of joy and relief.
Other members of the unit felt Lafitaga's pain, because she was part of their family.
"When I heard the news, I thought of all of the people that had relatives there and I told my husband that I needed to go," said Tech Sgt. Kehaulani Lobetos of Ewa Beach, Hawaii.
While in American Samoa, the Guard unit aided in the search for a missing six-year old boy through mud, water, debris and foliage; and provided basic military care, such as blood sugar level evaluations, minor pains, sprains and overall health assessments to make sure people were okay physically.
One American Samoan woman learned that she had high blood pressure and a low blood sugar level. A total of 154 people received medical treatment.
"Being here, I found the real reason that I decided to get into the medical field; I got to help people in situations like this," said Lafitaga. " I get to apply everything I do on paper or at weekend drill in an actual situation," she added.
The Relief efforts was a total team operation of both military and civilian organizations and Lafitaga benefited from it greatly.
It's wonderful working with all the other branches of services and other cultures as well," said Lafitaga.
After five days, the quick response medical element left American Samoa, but members left feeling relieved and that they did their part especially those who had roots there.