Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Denise ”Tolo” Atualevao was born in Honolulu, but raised in San Diego, where she’s currently stationed.
But her mother, Koroseta Ululima Atualevao, and father, Tafale Atoa Atualevao, both hail from American Samoa – her mother, from the villages of Nua and Se’etaga and her father from the village of Leone.
“I am a proud full-blooded Samoan teine,” she said, noting that “teine” means girl in Samoan.
Atualevao, who is fluent in the Samoan language and knowledgeable about the history and culture of the island, said she feels fortunate to have visited American Samoa frequently until 2014 when she graduated from Graceland University.
Since enlisting in the Navy six years ago, Atualevao has worked as a hospital corpsman, stationed for her first two years at Naval Hospital, Pensacola, then for three years on the USS Blue Ridge, an amphibious command ship homeported in Yokosuka.
She works at Naval Medical Center Point Loma Clinic in San Diego and hopes to become a health care administrator as a civilian.
Besides working as a corpsman, Atualevao plays for the All-Navy Women’s Volleyball team.
Making the cut for the team wasn’t too difficult, because Atualevao has played volleyball continuously since third grade.
Since her team plays against others from around the world, Atualevao said she’s made many friends in other countries. She played with the team at the Military World Games in China in 2019.
She also hopes also to open a club for Polynesian volleyball players.
Volleyball has given her an added boost in competitiveness, teamwork, leadership and confidence — attributes that are important in the Navy, she said.
“Being one of the team captains has definitely helped build my leadership skills and to not be afraid of whatever adversity we might face together,” she said.
The Defense Department presented Atualevao’s story as part of the celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.