By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 17, 2007 - Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating arrived here today at the capital of this 17-island archipelago to thank its people for setting the example for other countries around the world as they support the war on terror. Keating, on his first visit here since taking command of U.S. Pacific Command in March, said he wanted to express firsthand the United States' appreciation to Tonga, which recently sent its second contingent of troops to Iraq.
Fifty-five of Tonga's 450-member Tonga Defense Service deployed Aug. 18 to provide security at the Multinational Force Iraq headquarters at Al Faw Palace. The deployment represents the first time a non-U.S. force has taken on the mission.
Before deploying to Iraq, the Tongan troops trained at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and in Kuwait to ensure they were prepared for the mission, officials said.
Keating, who observed the Tongan troops during a Khaanquest training exercise earlier this summer in Mongolia, said he has no doubt of their capabilities. "They're very tough," he said. "They're not just very good, they're first class."
Tonight, at a military retreat ceremony and dinner at Togalevu Naval Base featuring the Tongan army band, Navy marching corps and native musicians and dancers, Keating said Tonga's contributions go far beyond numbers alone.
"What this country is doing is huge," the admiral said, particularly in light of Tonga's total military size and population. "Size is not as important as commitment," he said. "And the commitment seen in this country is huge."
Brig. Gen. Tau'aika "Dave" Uta'atu, Tonga's chief of defense, cited a statement by Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that no country is too big or powerful not to need other countries to defend itself, and no country is too small to make a contribution to security, he said.
Tonga knows it has no excuse to say it's too small or too far away from places where terrorists have struck to get involved in fighting terror, Uta'atu said. "We live in a global village, and we firmly believe that Asia and the Pacific are not immune from the threats," he said. "And even though Tonga is very small, we believe in the principle that we can contribute to regional and international security."
The Tongan troops currently in Iraq represent the kingdom's second troop rotation there. The first, in June 2004, included 45 soldiers who provided security at Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi, Iraq. There, they worked under the operational and administrative control of the U.S. 1st Marine Division.
Uta'atu noted that the 1st Marine Division and Tongan military first served together during World War II, when they fought the Japanese together during the Battle of Guadalcanal.
"The history of our relationship with the United States military didn't happen by accident," Uta'atu said.
The relationship between the two countries is based on their shared commitment to defending freedom and liberty and their belief that in helping each other, they're enhancing their own freedoms, he said.
When it comes to standing up to defend its liberties, "Tonga doesn't just talk about it," he said. "We act upon it."
Tonga previously announced plans to send a third rotation of troops to Iraq when those already there complete their six-month deployment.
"In working together, we believe we are helping to make the world a safer place," Uta'atu said.
Tonga's efforts demonstrate the importance of international cooperation in Iraq, Keating said. "It is a coalition effort, and we are intensely interested in other countries participating," he said. "Tonga is an example of that important participation."
As he travels throughout Asia and the Pacific encouraging greater contributions toward the effort in Iraq, Keating said he can point to Tonga for the example it has set.
"They're giving a lot to help ensure a more peaceful and stable world," Keating said. "That's why I'm here. I wanted to come renew that commitment and say thank you."