JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
The U.S. Army has approximately 29,000 Soldiers who identify as Asian Pacific Islander, which is larger than the current population of the Republic of Palau, the island nation where Sgt. Judah Sibetang was born and lived for 20 years. Sibetang is a watercraft operator aboard a Class B warping tug vessel (MWT-15), which allows him to serve in the environment he loves – the ocean.
“I was always taught that if you are going to do something, do something you enjoy and love, and you’ll never get tired of it,” said Sibetang, 331st Transportation Company, 11th Transportation Battalion, 7th Transportation Brigade, coxswain. “So, I told myself that if I’m going to join the Army, choose something that will remind me of home. So, when I saw they had watercraft operator, right there and then I knew this was for me.”
Palau consists of 340 islands across 180 square miles, its native populace relying on what the ocean can provide. When Sibetang was young he watched his grandfather and uncles sail in the waters of Palau daily searching for fish, which is where his passion for the sea also began. He was six years-old when his grandfather first took him out onto one of those fishing expeditions.
“After that, everywhere I would go I was out with him, or my uncles, and always on the water,” Sibetang said. “When I started college, I worked with my uncle in his bait shop working on rigs, fishing lines, and learned a lot there as well.”
Sibetang also commented about how his ancestors sailed through those islands to find a better life, while also teaching their descendants how to navigate those waters by the location of stars and constellations, or by putting their hands in the water to find where the current is flowing.
“Being a native of Palau he is a natural born mariner, and he is extremely dependable,” said U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Sarah Stone, U.S. Army Transportation Corps, Maritime and Intermodal Training Department, primary instructor. “No matter how great the task, he will find a way not only to get it done, but to a standard greater than any expectations.”
Sibetang has deployed to waters around Europe, and he is currently preparing his vessel for an upcoming deployment.
“It takes confidence and a wealth of knowledge concerning the deck machinery, maintenance and operations, and Sibetang possesses these traits and more,” said Stone. “He was instrumental in holding our team together during a very difficult deployment as one of my more junior NCOs who was constantly stepping up to fill a missing element within our department.”
Sibetang also finds moments to answer questions from his fellow Soldiers about his history and roots from Palau and uses these moments to better connect to the people he serves with.
“When they have a better understanding of who I am, it also helps to build trust, which is really important for mariners on these boats to have when we’re a small crew out on the water relying on each other,” said Sibetang.
Sibetang realized early on during his service that he is going to make the Army and his maritime profession a career. He’s started exploring his options for earning a commission as an officer.
“Sibetang is a natural motivator, mentor, and leader that junior Soldiers naturally gravitate toward and trust,” said Stone. “These traits are absolutely pivotal in the formation and sustainment of a good crew and the successful completion of our very demanding maritime missions.”
Sibetang plans to continue sharing his experiences and nautical passion with those around him.
“I love doing what I do, and I enjoy training junior enlisted and teaching them how to be better maritime Soldiers,” said Sibetang.