Nevada Guard has a history with the island of Tonga
RENO, Nevada (KOLO) – Photos provided by Aleki Pooi leave no doubt he is part of Tonga. Paternal relatives come from the island. His concern skyrocketed on January 14, 2022, when a volcano erupted on one of the kingdom’s uninhabited islands.
It took days, he said, to hear from his family.
“Fortunately, I have family in New Zealand and Australia, and they relayed the message that my family was doing well,” says Nevada National Guard specialist Pooi.
The eruption essentially cut off Tonga from the rest of the world. Communication is sparse and ash has blanketed the inhabited island, leaving the Tongans to fend for themselves.
“I saw a video of how the community around the nearest airport was sweeping up the ash so the planes could get in,” Pooi says.
The New Zealand military has used these cleared airstrips as well as the island’s docks to lead efforts to help the tiny nation. But due to COVID concerns, they can only drop off supplies and leave.
It’s frustrating for the Nevada National Guard. At the Carson City headquarters, Tongan cultural artifacts hang on the wall. And a partnership document from 2014 is on display. It was then that the guard and the Kingdom of Tonga began a relationship to learn from each other. Military exercises, as well as educational exchanges took place regularly.
“They call it the best warrior competition we have in the state on the Army side,” says Maj. Dustin Petersen of the Nevada National Guard. “Tonga and our other partner, Fiji, love sending people to these competitions and often they win,” he said.
Major Petersen says since the eruption he has received inquiries from guards on the latest news from Tonga. Members of the Nevada Guard traveled to Tonga and formed close ties with the islanders. At this point, he says the information is limited, but the guard remains hopeful and pledges his resources.
But it won’t be immediate.
Even though there is a partnership with the Kingdom of Tonga, many steps should be taken such as diplomatic approval. And COVID restrictions should be lifted from the island.
But if it happens and Nevada custody is needed, they say they’ll be there.
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