By UTNG Public Affairs
This month the Utah National Guard celebrates Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month to honor and celebrate generations of Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Hawaiians who continue to serve proudly and selflessly in the defense of our nation.
Today, AAPIs make up more than 5 percent of the enlisted corps, 7 percent of the officer corps, and 12 percent of the civilian workforce throughout the Department of Defense. Nearly three dozen AAPIs have been awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration for valor in defense of the nation.
We take this time in May to acknowledge and honor the military and civilian leaders of our AAPI community and to highlight those who serve in the Utah National Guard with distinction, and are role models exemplifying our highest values.
Lt. Col. Marie Roberts, Adjutant General Corps, 97th Troop Command
Date joined: May 28, 1997
Why did you decide to join?
I was born and raised in a military family—my father retired as an Air Defense Artillery chief warrant officer 5 after 30 years of Active Duty. When I was 20, I decided to enlist in the Air Force for the education benefits. I have stayed because of the many opportunities the military has afforded. Beyond an education and the ability to travel and experience new cultures, it has provided a camaraderie I’d argue one wouldn’t be able to find in any other profession, and the opportunity to provide service and to make a difference.
What has been your favorite moment or part of serving?
My favorite moment was meeting my husband while we both served at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
What does this observance mean to you?
It has been an honor and a privilege to be able to serve our country for more than 20 years in both the Air Force and the Army. I am proud to be counted among the sorority of women who have served and contributed to our country’s national defense. I feel a sense of patriotism and pride in being a woman and serving my country.
Tech. Sgt. David Owen, Equal Opportunity Advisor, 151st Air Refueling Wing
Date joined: August 12, 2008
Since high school, I had planned to join the military, but was planning on enlisting in the active-duty Air Force. As a young adult, responsibility was not something that interested me until I started attending college. The desire to go into debt for school was non-existent for me, and after some friends joined the Utah Air National Guard, my interest in the military was reinvigorated. My service in the various units in the wing has given me experiences and memories to which I would never have been exposed to otherwise.
In short, I joined for the education benefits, but stayed for the experiences.
My favorite part of serving has been getting to know the other members of the various units in which I have served and deployments I’ve done. Just listening to the stories and experiences of others has given me an understanding of the diversity of the United States Military.
According to the DoD, Asians and Pacific Islanders represent only 4 percent of the total force (both officers and enlisted) across all service components of the Air Force. It is important to highlight such a small part of the military so that we can both celebrate diverse cultural backgrounds and find commonality in the profession of arms.
Anything else we should know about you?
I grew up in Utah and have lived in some of the least diverse communities in the state. One might think I would have been treated with ignorance by some of the small rural populations where my family might have been the only one of Asian ancestry. However, I’ve never considered myself to be a minority, because I’ve always felt included by the communities in which I’ve lived.
Sgt. 1st Class Satya Chhe, Human Resources Specialist, JFHQ
Date joined: Active Duty (1998 – 2001) National Guard (2007 - present)
Why did you decide to join? I did not have too many options after graduating high school, but I wanted to challenge myself physically, so I joined active duty as an infantryman. After a seven-year break in service, I decided to join the Hawaii Army National Guard as a human resource specialist, due to my background in human resources. Then I reclassed to a public affairs broadcast specialist for a deployment in 2010 because videography seemed interesting.
What has been your favorite moment or part of serving? My most favorite thing about serving is the accountability piece. I truly feel that because I put on my uniform every day, I represent the Army and its community 24/7. So I have to hold myself accountable both physically and mentally at all times, and I enjoy that.
I am proud of my heritage and the history of where I came from. But this observance is mainly for my parents, because they had to survive and overcome a genocide and flee Cambodia with me and my older sister. They didn’t give up and they didn’t forget where we came from – and that warrior spirit and resiliency represents what this observance means to me.
I’m passionate about fitness and sharing my workout philosophy with people that want to improve their training capacity; with or without being in a gym. I started my own YouTube channel during the Covid-19 shutdown (which closed most gyms, including those on military installations) called: Fortysomething Fitness. It was specifically designed to maintain or improve your fitness with minimal to zero training equipment – and it also includes ACFT/military style workouts for preparation.
I’m happily married for 19 years to my wife Brandy and we have three children (18, 16, 5). Our oldest son just joined the Utah Army National Guard as a 92A and will attend Utah Valley University in the fall.
Sgt. 1st Class Sunia (Max) Fonua, Human Resources Specialist, 118th Transportation Company
Date joined: Jan. 27, 2005
Why did you decide to join?
I was raised in a great patriotic community. A couple of great friends joined, and I saw the change it made in them when they returned home. I decided to grow and be challenged by something I never experienced before and serve my country.
Friendships I have made along the journey are irreplaceable. Having the opportunity to work with some of our nation's best has to offer has been the highlight of my career.
The commemoration of this month is an excellent reminder of what makes our nation great. The vast cultural diversity across the United States Army highlights the United States motto E Pluribus Unum (Out of many, one). Our different ideas, strengths, and characteristics come together to support the exceptional democratic ideal of unity in diversity.
Sgt.Okamoto, Clinton, Patient Administration Specialist, Medical Detachment
Date joined: Oct. 4, 2018
Initially, I looked into joining the military for the education benefits because I was starting a master's degree. As I felt the pride of serving and being a Soldier, it confirmed my desire to join.
My favorite part of serving is working within my unit to accomplish our mission. I love working with good, capable Soldiers who understand the goal and are willing to work together to achieve it.
It is nice to know that diversity is valued. I am not usually a person that seeks out attention, but understanding the culture and background of those around us can lead to more knowledge and experience. This can be powerful in building team cohesion and unity.
I am a happy husband and a proud father! My family is everything to me.
Sgt. Chelsea Ong, Combat Medic, Patient Administration, Medical Detachment
Date joined: Sept. 19, 2005
All my family has served and I wanted to continue the tradition and help people where I can, whether medically or defensively.
Traveling and meeting all sorts of people from all over the world is my favorite part of serving. Joining at 17 has given me more experience, life lessons, and the ability to travel than most people.
It gives me a chance to celebrate and appreciate part of my heritage. Reflecting on the past versus the present, there have been so many changes.
I am a mother of three children with another baby due in September. My hobbies include hiking, family vacations, and cooking gourmet meals for my family. I am a competitive gamer in e-sports. I hope to continue to build interest in the development of female gamers in the e-sports industry.
Sgt. 1st Class Reuben Miles, Senior Human Intelligence Collector, 640th Regiment Regional Training Institute
Date joined: Feb. 13, 2003
I initially joined to attend college. However, I have sincerely appreciated the chance to serve the public during times of emergency and the opportunity to defend this nation.
Throughout my many years of service, I have many moments that I look back on fondly. The memory I treasure the most was the time I was able to serve in response to the flooding in the Payson, Utah area following the wildfires in 2019.
Name: Sgt. Anna Sewell, 88M Vehicle Operator/ Truck Driver, 213th Transportation Unit
Date joined: April 28, 2016
Since I was a little girl, I aspired to become a part of an organization where I could grow and become a shining pillar to those around me. After doing some research, I found the U.S. Army National Guard would set me up for a great career path and assist with supporting the completion of my bachelor’s degree. Alongside that, the Army National Guard has given me the opportunity be able to pursue a civilian career and be with those who are near and dear to me. Therefore, I made the decision to join, and I would not change it for the world.
The most cherished moment of serving is experiencing the beauty of leadership amongst the Soldiers that fall under my direction. Also working alongside my brothers and sisters in arms who I can trust and continue to push forward and always place the mission first.
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