Stepping off the plane wearing shorts and a t-shirt in early 2020, Ratu Osea Melibua was struck by how cold New Mexico’s desert was compared to his home in the Republic of Fiji. Melibua journeyed over 6,200 miles from Rukua Village on Beqa Island, where he grew up playing rugby against a backdrop of tropical beaches, palm trees, and clear blue water. He arrived in the United States in pursuit of a chance to study at the prestigious United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. After graduating high school and working on his family’s taro farm for a year, Melibua decided to continue his family’s legacy of service by joining the Republic of Fiji Military Forces. Shortly after affiliating with the Republic of Fiji Navy, Melibua attended an information session at the US Embassy about studying at a US service academy, and was inspired to apply for the opportunity. He was subsequently selected as one of two promising candidates to attend the New Mexico Military Institute (NMMI) in Roswell to prepare for the rigors of Annapolis.
Melibua comes from a region that has seen increased geostrategic competition over the past few years. Fiji and the Pacific region have a combined population of under 2.5 million people, yet their cumulative waters make up approximately 15% of the Earth’s surface, including critical sea lines of communication that link Asia and Australia with North and South America. The United States has continued to strengthen its network of allies and partners in the region, building upon common values and democratic traditions. International participation in US military schools such as the Naval Academy has been a key part in that effort, building relationships among future leaders and cementing the bonds of friendship and trust.
While the road to the Naval Academy is never easy, the process can be much more challenging for international military students, who must adapt to a new culture and education requirements. Service academy preparatory schools, such as NMMI, provide students the opportunity to gain leadership skills and sharpen their academic abilities in order to prepare for service academies’ demanding curriculum. The Naval Academy accepts less than 9% of applicants, making it more selective than most Ivy League schools. On average, one-third of the Academy’s accepted Midshipmen receive post-high school education at preparatory schools like NMMI. Though many international students receive tuition waivers for US service academies, they are not eligible for the same preparatory school opportunities available to US applicants.
To help prepare Melibua for the Naval Academy, Spirit of America coordinated with the US Embassy in Fiji to fund one year’s tuition at NMMI. Spirit of America is a privately funded 501(c)3 nonprofit that works alongside US troops and diplomats to deliver the goodwill of the American people, addressing local needs and strengthening critical partnerships around the world. Since 2003, Spirit of America has worked in more than 80 countries, filling the gaps between what’s needed on the front lines and what the government can do.
Ratu Osea Melibua is the first candidate Spirit of America has funded to attend a US service academy preparatory school, an opportunity that Melibua believes will “open doors for countries to interact and build bridges so they can learn from each other.” Advisors at NMMI such as Senior Chief (retired) Charles Scott have dubbed Melibua “an exemplary cadet” who “continues to be a strong, positive influence on the Corps of Cadets. He [Melibua] is focused, dedicated, and driven to achieve his goal of an appointment to the US Naval Academy.”
In April, Melibua accepted an appointment to the Naval Academy. He will join its Class of 2025 later this year. He understands that the next four years will challenge him mentally and physically, but he is motivated to return to Fiji and become a leader within the Republic of Fiji Navy. He will join countless other officers from around the globe who have forged enduring bonds of friendship at Annapolis.
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