Among the leadership duties that I most enjoy are assembling purpose-built teams and mentoring new colleagues. I am thus thoroughly enjoying transitions now underway at my Embassies with the arrival of our two new Deputy Chiefs of Mission.
We recruited our new DCM for New Zealand, Marie Damour, from Brazil where she was serving as the American Consul General. We found my new DCM/Chargé for Samoa, Chad Berbert, in China where he was serving as the Management Officer in our Shenyang Consulate. Chad sent me a report today about his first 10 days in Apia, so I thought I’d introduce him to you.
A career US Foreign Service officer, Chad has worked in a variety of positions around the world including in London, East Asia, and Washington. He speaks English, Korean, and Mandarin. A native of Utah, he earned his undergraduate degree in International Relations at Stanford University, an MBA from Wharton (with honors), and a masters degree in International Studies from the University of Pennsylvania.
Chad shares my enthusiasm for Samoan culture, the Pacific, student engagement, sustainable development, and practical joint projects, and I very much look forward to working with him. From everything I’ve seen, he is certainly off to a great start. Rather than paraphrase what he’s told me, I’ll reprint below his first report from Apia:
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Dear Ambassador Huebner,
Thank you again for selecting me for Apia. I’ve had an excellent first ten days, and it’s clear that your glowing reports about Samoa have been spot on. The country is extraordinarily beautiful, and the people I have already met have been gracious, generous, warm, and welcoming. My family and I are finding our transition to be both fun and interesting, and the wonderful Samoan hospitality is making it easy to settle in.
On Monday, my first business day at Post, I hit the ground running with a very positive first meeting with our Embassy staff, followed by a performance at Fagali’i Primary School by US percussionist Tom Teasley. Thank you for arranging for Tom to come to Apia during my first week. It was lucky that I was able to discuss his schedule with him while he was still in DC working on an award winning theater project there, so everything went smoothly.
Tom was amazing. His repertoire was eclectic, extensive, and exciting — a real melting pot of percussion tradition including American jazz mixed with European, Indian, Iraqi, and other beats. The Fagali’i Primary students absolutely loved it, and by the end they were cheering and dancing in a rush of enthusiasm.
Even better yet, the students joined in the performance by sharing with us their school song which included body percussion and coordinated movements. I was thoroughly impressed and touched by their passion. I had brought along my sons Lincoln and Isaac, and they loved meeting their Samoan primary school counterparts.
On Tuesday I went out with Tom again, this time to Leulumoega Fou College which has a rich religious and cultural history. There the students treated us to some really beautiful music of their own, including a refrain of We are Friends, which made both Tom and me feel right at home. Tom’s performance was again a hit, and by the end Tom and the students were singing and playing together, a true musical and emotional connection which I will never forget.
Wednesday night we had the pleasure of officially opening our new Residence with another Tom Teasley performance. This time he had prepared a special treat, a collaborative effort with three separate Samoan performance groups: the choir from the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa at Alamagoto, the Oceania Performing Excellence Network troupe from the University of the South Pacific and the National University of Samoa, and a traditional Samoan drum and dance company from the Autalavou EFKS Faatoia.
The singing and dancing were amazing, and it was a great introduction to Samoan culture and music for my family. Tom proceeded with his solo performance and then wowed the audience with his ability to integrate with the Samoan performers to produce new entertainment together. To top it all off, a traditional fire-knife dancer also wowed the crowd. It was the perfect end to a great evening of performances.
On Thursday several of my new friends and I watched Manu Samoa in their valiant effort against South Africa in the Rugby World Cup. It was a great game, and Da Manu performed admirably. The loss was painful, but we know that Samoan rugby is and will continue to be a great force to be reckoned with. I look forward to seeing much more while I’m here.
Of course, I also did a busy round of meetings during the week with public officials and civil society figures including Hon. Fonotoe Pierre Lauofo (Deputy (Acting) Prime Minister), Hon. Faumuina Liuga (Minister of Finance), Hon. Dr. Leao Tuitama (Minister of Health), Hon. Faamoetauloa Ulaitino Dr. Faale Tumaalii (Minister of the Environment), Palusalue Faapo II (Head of the official opposition Tautua Samoa Party), Vaasilifiti Moelagi Jackson (President of SUNGO), other diplomats accredited to Samoa, Dale Withington (Director of our Peace Corps mission), and many others.
On Friday I signed an MOU with Mapusaga o Aiga Inc. to provide them with grant funding to promote human rights education within families and to combat domestic violence. Our US$ 20,000 will go a long way toward assisting them in their very important work.
This past weekend was equally exciting. Anne and I attended the premier of the new film by Tusi Tamasese, The Orator, which was absolutely amazing — another great introduction to Samoan culture as well as a powerful and eloquent story of love, respect, and finding one’s own voice. We met not only the director and cast but also Their Highnesses Tui Atua and Masiofo Filifilia, who were just as charming, gracious, and kind as you had told me.
I had the privilege of attending on Sunday the National Memorial Service for victims of the 2009 Tsunami. It was a moving, respectful, and solemn occasion, and I was honored to be able to lay flowers at the graves there. I know it is hard remembering the tragedy for many, but I must say I am truly impressed by the great resilience and deep faith of the Samoan people. It is an honor to serve here for that reason alone.
Upon his return from the UNGA opening in New York, I had the honor and pleasure of meeting with Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi. The Prime Minister was warm, welcoming, and very conversant, praising the close US-Samoan cooperation on a number of issues. We also talked about his recent meetings with President Obama and Secretary Clinton, and discussed how our two countries can work even more closely together.
It was an exciting and productive first week in Apia for me, and I look forward to exploring all the other wonderful parts of the country that you have told me about. Samoa is a truly welcoming place, and it is really a great honor to be here.
Thank you again for your trust and confidence. I look forward to talking with you this week at our regular times and to seeing you on your next visit.
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I wish that I could have flown up to Apia to welcome Chad personally, but I was already committed to be in New Zealand for the two Rugby World Cup games played by the USA Eagles during his first week. (The RWC schedulers put our Eagles through the same kind of compressed schedule as our Manu Samoa team unfortunately faced.)
If you haven’t yet met Chad, please give him a call or go over to the Embassy to introduce yourselves. I know that he is looking forward to meeting as many of his new neighbors as possible in his first month.
When you see Chad on the street, please share with him any advice that you might have for a newly arrived diplomat. I want to make sure that he settles in quickly and continues to build positive momentum in our bilateral engagement with Samoa.