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The local episode aired Sunday, but you can get behind-the-scenes interviews, the tribesmen’s impressions of America and additional photos: www.travelchannel.com/TV_Shows/Meet_the_Natives
WASHINGTON — An Army family from Fort Stewart hosted five Pacific islanders in the fifth and final episode of the Travel Channel’s “Meet the Natives: USA.”
The show follows five Vanuatu tribesmen from the remote South Pacific Island of Tanna and their quest to understand American culture and spread a message of peace, as well as find an American servicemember they call “Tom Navy” who helped their island during World War II.
“Tom Navy ... was an African-American serviceman back in World War II,” said the show’s executive producer, Charlie Parsons. “My guess is somebody probably introduced himself as ‘I’m Tom from the Navy,’ and his name turned into Tom Navy, passed down through the generations on the island.”
During their stay at Fort Stewart, Staff Sgt. Steve Shepard, Sgt. Tara Shepard and their three children helped the ambassadors though a training simulator, physical training, the post museum, a homecoming, shopping at the post exchange and military-style haircuts.
“The family was fantastic and they gave us permission to shoot there,” Parsons said. “The timing was right and everything just came together. We’re thrilled with what we captured there.”
One of the first stops on Fort Stewart was the training simulator to practice shooting, a strange and unsettling experience for the tribesmen, whose culture had given up weapons in the time of their grandfathers.
“These kinds of games will lead them to a war,” said Vanuatu Chief Mangau.
“They really did not like messing with weapons. They were on a mission of peace,” said Shepard, who is back in Iraq now with the 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, and responded through e-mail.
In both Shepard’s and Parsons’ favorite scene, Shepard gives the tribesmen dog tags — dog tags are an important artifact from Tom Navy on Tanna — and Maj. Gen. Tony Cuculo, commander of the 3rd ID, awards the World War II and Asiatic Pacific campaign medals to Mangau, in honor of his father’s assistance against the Japanese. Mangau and his fellow ambassadors reciprocated with a traditional tribal dance.
“It was very heartfelt, and for the chief to almost cry was priceless,” wrote Shepard. “It was like closing a chapter in his life. I really enjoyed their tribal dance. The soldiers participated and the evening was very delightful.”