By Catherine Ross (Fort Carson)May 30, 2013
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Distinctive culture and tradition came vividly to life for an audience of Fort Carson Soldiers, Families and civilians, during the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month observance at McMahon Auditorium May 23.
Hosted by the Fort Carson Equal Opportunity Program, the event included dance performances and food samplings sponsored by Army Community Service.
Five Soldiers from the 59th Quartermaster Company, 43rd Sustainment Brigade, emphasized this year's theme, "Building Leadership: Embracing Cultural Values and Inclusion," by highlighting the lives and accomplishments of distinguished Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Individuals recognized included Navy retired Rear Adm. Ming E. Chang, Army retired Lt. Gen. Edward Soriano and actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
Pfc. Summer Coachman shared the accomplishments of Elaine Chao, former secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush and the first Asian-American woman appointed to a president's cabinet.
"It was very interesting," Coachman said of volunteering to be a part of the observance. "I learned about different cultures and enjoyed the dances."
The dances were performed by Pacific Pride & Island Hearts, a nonprofit Polynesian dance group based in Colorado Springs. Ranging in age from 4-25, the majority of the dancers came to Colorado Springs as Family members of servicemembers.
Between performances of traditional hula dances from Hawaii and tamure dances from Tahiti, group choreographer Charlene Maneafaiga said the group aims to promote unity through dance.
"It's our way of giving back to the community and sharing our culture," said Maneafaiga.
Embodying the day's leadership theme was guest speaker Lt. Col. Danielle Ngo, a Vietnamese-American, and commander of the 52nd Engineer Battalion.
"Somewhere, sometime, there are those in our lives who help develop us, and their experiences form our leadership style," Ngo said. "For many of us, our culture provided that experience."
Ngo shared her personal story: while a young child during the Vietnam War, Ngo, her mother and sister were evacuated from Vietnam by the U.S. Army. Her mother, despite coming to America not knowing English, worked to support her daughters while going to college.
"I remember my mother always telling me to work hard, go to college and make something of myself. The best one was 'Don't shame me.' I remember that to this day." Ngo said that her mother instilled in her what are considered stereotypical Asian-American values such as hard work, pride, respect and frugality.
"Not all stereotypes are negative," Ngo said. "I embraced these cultural stereotypes."
She explained how her cultural identity helped shape her leadership style in the Army.
"Over the years, I've continued to build and adjust my leadership style, and I've always used the cultural values my mother instilled in me: work hard, be smart, pay respect and be strict, but fair."
Ngo also appreciates the leaders she has served with, noting that while at Fort Bragg, N.C., she was one of the first female officers assigned to an airborne engineer combat line unit, and was initially more worried about the perception of females rather than that of Asian-Americans.
"The leaders I had never held being female or Asian against me," Ngo said. "The leaders I had nurtured me."
Reflecting on her decision to join the Army, Ngo said, "I became part of an organization that I felt was diverse enough that I could succeed or fail from my own actions, and not the color of my skin."
After presenting certificates of appreciation to program participants, Col. (P) John Thomson, 4th Inf. Div. deputy commander, provided closing remarks.
Thomson recounted the impression his first platoon sergeant, an Asian-American, had on him.
"I remember him as taking care of a second lieutenant, putting his arm around me and teaching me probably more about leadership in the military than anyone else in my military career. Joe happened to be Filipino-American."
Thomson noted that diversity is a strength for the Army.
"It's important that we share and celebrate this diversity through sharing cultures, traditions and values."
Following the formal portion of the program, attendees were invited to sample cuisine from the Philippines, Vietnam, Guam and Thailand.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Deliberty, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team equal opportunity adviser, said he enjoyed the program.
"It showed a lot of the traditions of the islands," he said. "The show was outstanding and the food smells great."
The program also left an impression on 4th Inf. Div. Equal Opportunity Program Manager Lt. Col. Jim Rouse who said he appreciated Ngo sharing how "cultural values have allowed her to be successful in life, and how the Army environment is inclusive of all ethnic backgrounds."