Shared from The Pentagram article
By Arthur Mondale Pentagram Staff Writer
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are the fastest growing racial group in the Unites States, expected to double to a population of 47 million over the next four decades according to the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI). But there are growing concerns with regard to recruitment and retention among AAPIs in the U.S. military.
“When I was a young lieutenant, I don’t think I ever saw an Asian American or Pacific Islander general officer — except for General Eric Ken Shinseki — who I had only seen in newspapers and on television,” said Major Renee Lee, D.C. Air National Guard public affairs officer. “It’s been very inspiring for me to maintain my career, recruit others and help with the retention of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders — and all minorities. I value these opportunities. And as a leader it’s my responsibility to build a stronger team.”
Lee’s view isn’t contained in a vacuum. Her perspective and the challenges facing AAPI veterans and those currently serving has been discussed within the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. On Dec. 5, leaders from the DoD, the VA and their allies met during the National Forum for Asian American and Pacific Islander Military Members and Veterans at the Women’s Memorial Theater at Arlington National Cemetery. Topics included inclusion, diversity, equal opportunity, veteran support and partnership strategies.
Speakers and panelists included high ranking officials from the Department of Defense and Congress, including Eric Fanning, Secretary of the Army; Maj. Gen. Garrett S. Yee, Headquarters Department of the U.S. Army Chief Information Officer/G-6 and Congressman Mark Takano, representative for California’s 41st congressional district amongst other influencers.
“Less than one percent of [the U.S] population serves in the military, but think about the subset of that — the AAPI community — it’s a smaller subset, that’s something to think about,” said Yee, who served as a moderator during a panel discussion at the forum.
“Our greatest asset to protecting our homeland and advancing our interest abroad is the talented diversity our national security workforce,” said Hansen Mak, foreign affairs specialist within the office of the Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force.
Also represented at the forum were cadets from the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy (West Point); invited by retired Lt. Col. Ravi Chaudhary, member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and the executive director for Regions and Center Operations at the Federal Aviation Administration.
“As an academy graduate, I’ve been where the cadets have been and I want to be a pathfinder for them in turn,” Chaudhary said in reference to mentoring the next generation of senior military leaders.
“It’s a matter of military readiness and also service to our country,” added retired Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba.
The cadets were seated alongside a diversified number of attendees like Maj. Countess Cooper, a D.C. Air National Guard chaplain.
“I’m not of Asian Pacific Islander heritage, but coming to a forum of this kind shows all attendees we share a common ground and must develop common strategies on overcoming injustices and spaces where we need development in our military organizations,” Cooper said. “We can do more together as a group than we can do individually or in our social silos. There is a need for collective bargaining, if you will, in aspects of equality and justice.”
“Often what proceeds great progress for our country happens first in our military,” Takano said.
The forum also included the landmark signing of the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015 (S.1555) in recognition of Filipino and Filipino American contributions to World War II, which passed in U.S. House of Representatives Nov. 30; it passed in the Senate over the summer.
“Congress and the great nation have fully recognized the veterans of World War II for their selfless service to our nation,” Taguba said. “[The Filipino Veterans of World War II] have now joined The Tuskegee Airmen, the Montford Point Marines, the Women Airforce Service Pilots, the Navajo Code Talkers, the Nisei Soldiers of World War II and the Puerto Rican Soldiers of the 65th Infantry Regiment.”
Taguba’s words particularly resonated with World War II veteran, Celestino Almeda. Almeda who is 99-years-old is one of approximately 260,000 Filipino and Filipino Americans who served in World War II. It’s estimated that approximately 18,000 are still alive today, Taguba said.
“It is heartwarming to receive a gold medal — but there is another [weight] on my shoulder — I hope the stipulation of the law will also grant posthumous awards to the [Filipino and Filipino American] veterans [of World War II],” Almeda said.
Pentagram Staff Writer Arthur Mondale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org