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Family tragedy nearly kept Air Force nose guard Mosese Fifita from reporting to basic training

Defensive linemen Santo Coppola (97), Mosese Fifita (99) and Kyler Ehm (98) await the start of the Navy-Air Force football game at Annapolis, Md., Oct. 7, 2017.

JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

By BRENT BRIGGEMAN | The Gazette | Published: August 25, 2018

Mosese Fifita almost opted out of his Air Force career before it started. And no one would have blamed him.

Six days before Fifita was to report for basic training, his father, Latu, a Boeing engineer and devoted Mormon, died at 48 of a heart attack.

Mosese, then 19 and the oldest of the family’s five children, had less than a week to grieve, help with arrangements and process the life-changing event before being whisked away for six weeks of intense, isolated training with no cell phone and only a limited window to the outside world.

“I actually asked if I could start late,” said Fifita, now a junior and Air Force’s starting nose guard. “They said they would have given me a couple of days, but I wanted to start normal so I wasn’t treated any differently than the rest of the cadets. So I just came in and started.

“It was pretty difficult. I was writing letters every day. Multiple letters to multiple people. I was worried about my mom and my siblings more than anything.”

Fifita’s defensive line coach, Tim Cross, lost his father years ago just as he was leaving for an assistant job at Texas. So, on some level he can relate to dealing with family tragedy just as a life-changing event is beginning.

“But that was different, I was a grown man,” Cross said. “You’re talking about a young guy, right before going to basic, coming into a strange land, basically. It would have been easy for him to be like, ‘You know what, I need some time. I need to wait.’ Instead he was full steam ahead, he got after it.”

Fifita said the coaching staff all sent texts and emails, making sure he knew they would support whatever decision he made.

“It’s like anything,” Cross said, “if you say you’re family, then you act like family and you’re there for each other like family. You can’t just be family when you’re recruiting them. The most important thing is when things aren’t right and you’re there for them.”

Fifita said his mind at basic training was fixed on the calendar, counting down the days until he could have access to a phone to call his family back in Everett, Wash. His mother, Amanda, and three of his siblings came to the academy for commitment day at the end of basic training, and he received a hug 40 days in the making.

“I’m glad,” Fifita says now, reflecting on the decision made two years ago. “I’ve thought about it a lot and prayed about it. I think that’s what my dad would have wanted me to do, not stop my life or anything. He would have wanted me to move on, continue on, keep pushing with my life.”

©2018 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
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