After nine deployments for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, U.S. Army veteran Deutsch Nu'uelua Pu’u has been recognized for his service to the Army, country and community through new programs that are inspiring youth in American Samoa and Waipahu.
Drugs, crime, litter and alcoholism have long plagued Waipahu, especially the area where Pu’u makes his home, Pupuole, a neighborhood comprised of five streets of high and low rise flats. It is home to a large number of Pacific island immigrants including Samoans and Micronesians.
“Understanding the complexity of the situation in American Samoa, most our people are obese… we have to attack the situation. Because I’m a pro fighter…I wanted to bring my set of skills to the Samoan people and not just sit and do nothing,” Pu’u told Faletuiga during an interview at his home on Pupuole Street. “I wanted to share what I know with whoever is willing to learn.”
Obesity, he says is a problem among Samoans in Waipahu, American Samoa and worldwide.
Pu’u, father of three, is a graduate of Samoana High School in Utulei, American Samoa. After high school graduation in 1995, he enlisted, beginning a 13-year career in the US Army. He’s deployed a total of nine times – to Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Uzbekistan – when he was stationed in Germany with the US Army Europe and out of Hawaii with the US Army Pacific. One of his deployments was through the U.S. Department of State, orders that Pu’u says he can’t talk about.
Purple Heart veterans joined Honolulu City and County Mayor Peter Carlisle to honor Pu’u at the Honolulu Hale Nov. 3, 2011. Director of Veterans Affairs Pacific Gen. James Hastings presented Pu’u with an award of recognition on behalf of the City that says “In recognition of dedicated service with the United States Army and in appreciation for contributions to our nation and community.” The event was part of Health Awareness Month in Honolulu.
Many lives have been touched by Pu’u through his work in the ring. He is the first Samoan to be crowned All Army Boxing Champion, a title he won in 2003. It was the same year TIME Magazine named The American Soldier Person of the Year. That same year, USA Boxing ranked Pu’u fourth in the nation. Also in 2003, Pu’u finished fourth in the U.S. Olympic Trials, noting it was a controversial loss. Though he landed more blows than his opponent, Pu’u still lost the fight and his chance to compete for the U.S.
Pu’u is the fourth of 10 children born to the late Mr. Nu’uelua Sifaga Pu’u of Nu’uuli and Vatia and Mrs. Maia Kerry Teofilo Pu’u of Masefau.
After his time in the Army, Pu’u joined forces with American Samoa’s sports leaders founding American Samoa MMA which offers free services to anyone who wants to train in boxing, kickboxing, judo and jujitsu at their Leone facility. All services at the gym are free. Pu’u focuses on the youngsters, teaching them early to train; stay fit and go far in life.
Pu’u got wind that youth in the Pupuole area wanted to train with him.
“I was motivated to find a place to train and I opened up my training camp to them. It’s opened up for anybody to train. We invite anybody and everybody who can’t afford gym fees to train with us,” said Pu’u. “Us Samoans in Hawaii, especially in Hawaii, if we don’t teach our kids how to be successful they will fall into loopholes like we did. I want to teach them my skills as an athlete and soldier and use it effectively in our community. There is a need for people to work out.”
The Hawaii Training Center in Waipio graciously agreed to help and the athletes trained for several months at the Waipio center. Early this year Pu’u proudly opened SAMOA MMA Hawaii based at the Lighthouse Outreach Center in Waipahu. Top notch trainers like Joseph Solis have been teaming with Pu’u to help train the young athletes of Samoa MMA Hawaii and adults who are interested in the intense workouts. Training is free. All Pu’u asks is that you come with the desire to learn and soak up all the knowledge you can. There is a second requirement: you must have heart.
“I wanted this, not only for our Samoans…it’s about the Polynesians. We have our own generation and we have been hearing about the problems from our fathers and their fathers,” he said.
Earlier generations of Samoans who relocated to the Hawaii and the US, had to deal with cultural and language barriers, biases and stereotypes, says Pu’u.
“They didn’t really understand. This generation, we know how to make it happen and have the means to make it happen,” Pu’u says. He began boxing at the age of five, all his siblings trained by their late father Nu’uelua.
Last December, Pu’u traveled to American to host the territory’s very first cage fight. He notes the first cage fight would not have been possible without backing from his longtime sponsors – Peter Lamy, Consolidators Incorporated International and BOOYAA Fight Wear.
Opening SAMOA MMA Hawaii at Lighthouse was made possible by Lighthouse leader, Pastor Joe Hunkin.
“It’s a statement for Samoans…that our generation can do it as long as we are willing to step forward,” Pu’u said.
“It’s important to mention that I left Samoa because my son got sick. He is the first child medivaced from Samoa by the Air Force to Hawaii. We are now staying in Hawaii for the best for my son,” he noted.
In 2004, Pu’u lost a daughter to SMA, spinal muscular atrophy, which causes the muscles to rapidly deteriorate. It’s a genetic disorder that eventually kills. DJ is their second child to have been diagnosed with the illness. Deutsch, wife Eustasia Tunoa-Pu’u and their daughter Linei still carry a lot of pain from their loss but they put their faith in God and move forward for DJ’s sake.
Recently DJ was moved from an Ewa care home to their family apartment in Waipahu. It was a huge accomplishment for the Pu’u family to have DJ living with them again. DJ is still in need of a special type $40,000 van, needed to transport their son, to doctor appointments, to the store anywhere. Until DJ has the van, he stays in, unable to travel without that vehicle.
“I got a program in Samoa with the right people in the right place. All these programs, the combat programs in Samoa and Hawaii, it’s all just to look out for the kids,” Pu’u says. “This generation of Samoans and Polynesians – we’re educated; we’re the doers, the movers. It’s all about what we’re willing to put forward. If I’m willing to step forward, I’m going to step completely forward.”
Pu’u has a number of big fights lined up this year – in the mainland and Hawaii.