CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait – Soldiers were beginning to gather and sit among picnic tables as the coming evening cast a twilight glow on the United Service Organizations stage.
Dancers dressed in their ornate and traditional garb, prepared to share their culture with soldiers on the base.
Soldiers of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, hosted an evening of different cultural dances and traditions from various Pacific Islands to educate soldiers and civilians during a ceremony celebrating Asian Pacific American Islander Heritage Month, May 30.
“The month of May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time to commemorate the many accomplishments and contributions of immigrants, refugees and American-born Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Their sacrifice and service in education, government and many other fields have transformed and contributed to the betterment of our nation,” said Vietnam native Maj. Kahn Diep, the brigade adjutant of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
Diep explained how her family immigrated from Vietnam to the United States when she was four.
When asked about how important it is to have a month to observe Asian Pacific American Islander heritage she said, “On this day I reflect upon the many opportunities that have been provided to me in this great and generous country. Specifically, the United States Army has served as both a profession and an inspiration to me.”
On Oct. 5, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a Joint Resolution designating the annual celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage. During his presidency, President George W. Bush Sr. signed an extension making the week-long celebration into a month-long celebration. In 1992, May was designated to be the month to hold observance.
At the beginning of the celebration, a ceremonial pig was brought in, blessed and served during and after the event. In the Pacific Islands, pigs are considered to be important because they are a primary source of food.
“They are important because they are our primary food, our main course,” said Sgt. 1st Class Vanessa Pelesasa, a medical non-commissioned officer assigned to the Headquarters and Headquarters Troop of the Ironhorse Brigade, and the primary person who organized the event.
After the ceremonial pig was blessed, a panel consisting of six leaders, five of whom were assigned to the Ironhorse Brigade, were brought onto the stage to share their knowledge and experiences with diversity.
During the panel event, the six members, chosen because of their Asian American Pacific Islander heritage or a link thereto, were asked questions about diversity and overcoming challenges while serving in the military.
Born in Korea and raised in Chicago, 1st Sgt. David Yu, was asked how he adapted and overcame leadership challenges.
“I realized that an institution with different ethnic backgrounds was an institution that I wanted to belong in and for the Army to celebrate these observance days, it’s a great event. I was always taught early in the Army that there is no skin color, but the color is green,” said Yu, the first sergeant for Company A of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment of the Ironhorse Brigade.
Yu added that he never had any bad experiences with ethnic discrimination while serving in the Army, and that growing up, he admired Michael Chang, a Chinese-American tennis player who set many records.
Missouri native, Lt. Col. Jason Carrico, the commander of the 115th Brigade Support Battalion and who served in Korea, was asked to share his experiences with diversity and the Army.
Carrico said he grew up in a small Midwest town where the majority of the population was of the same ethnicity, and who worked, shopped and attended the same church.
“Coming in the Army, the diversity is probably what makes it fun. You get to see a little bit of everything. You get to meet someone from everywhere,” Carrico said.
Carrico said in his battalion alone, there is a large and diverse group of soldiers, and everyone in that group brings something to the fight.
“I encourage someone coming in [the Army], to just embrace [diversity], have some fun with it, and learn everything you can,” Carrico said.
The highlight of the observance was a series of traditional dances from Figi, Hawaii, Samoa and New Zealand performed by soldiers of the Ironhorse Brigade. Attendees were also taught how to say hello in the native languages of those countries.
After the dances, the ceremony’s host presented select leaders of the board hand-carved plaques, adorned with traditional markings that are customary and unique to Samoan families.
Col. Scott Efflandt, the commander of the Ironhorse Brigade gave the celebration’s closing remarks. He spoke of the brigade’s deployment in the desert and the fact things can be repetitive, but he said that diversity makes it fun.
“What’s neat about being in the Army, like Lt. Col. Carrico says, is that you get to embrace a rich heritage, and you get to embrace a fabric, and you can leverage that fabric to makes things special. I feel pretty lucky and special to be with all of you and I thank all of you for making this a special time in the deployment,” said Efflandt.