Full Frame Review: Island Soldier

Did you know that you don’t have to live in the United States to serve in the military? You don’t even have to be a citizen. Such is the situation for the natives of the Federated States of Micronesia. After World War II, the 607 islands North of Australia were part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands and overseen by the USA. In 1986 under President Ronald Reagan, The Federated States of Micronesia were given there freedom. Reagan swore this change would cause the islands to flourish on their own. The Compact of Free Association between FSM and the USA allowed the islands to get a bit of funding and agree to let the islanders serve in the USA military. Island Soldier explores the lives of those who serve an army half the world away.

Sgt. Sapuro Nena returns home in a coffin after being killed in Afghanistan when an “ally” turned his gun on Nena and two others. Nena’s mother is devastated, but there are so many other U.S. military veterans. She does her best to keep her son’s memory alive by opening a sandwich shop. But it turns out the island of Kosrae is not a great place to start a small business. The economy is dismal which is part of the way that the army recruiting office finds locals eager to enlist. The average inductee makes about five times the average income of a person on Kosrae. We meet young man who his heading to the states for boot camp. He doesn’t want to leave, but he senses there’s no other choice even in an amazing tropical paradise. Kosrae is wonderful through the cinematography of Nathan Fitch and Bryan Chang. Why this isn’t a vacation hotspot might be summed up by the story we were told about one of the soldiers who returned home with his wife and three kids. The plane fare was $20,000 round trip for the family.

The retirees who return to the islands quickly discover that they don’t get the same benefits afforded to those that stay back in the states. They are not eligible to use VA loans to purchase a house in FSM. Even greater of a concern is the lack of health care. Sure they can go to a VA hospital, but that involves buying a plane ticket to Guam or Hawaii. One man travels from FSM to Washington D.C. to address this issue, but he gets frustrated like so many others.

Director Nathan Fitch and his crew have constructed a comprehensive documentary that tells the stories of so many that have been fought and sacrificed for America. There’s a lot of emotion on the screen especially when Sgt. Nena’s best army pal visits the island to comfort his mother. It’s amazing what Fitch covers in a mere 85 minutes. He goes from FSM to the hostile lands of Afghanistan to keep in touch with the subjects. The film allows you to appreciate what the people of the remote islands have done for the USA. Island Soldier makes you want email your Congressman to allow FSM veterans to get treatment at a local hospital as part of their veterans benefits.

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