FORT IRWIN, Calif. -- Asian American Pacific Islander heritage month was celebrated here with a ceremony, May 7.

This year's theme, "I am Beyond," was envisioned by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center in Washington D.C. The theme captures Asian Pacific American experiences across the nation and the American spirit that calls everyone to overcome barriers. The monthly observance provides an opportunity to recognize the rich and complex past, present, and future of Asian Pacific American communities, organizations, leaders and innovators, artists, musicians, teachers and students, youth and elders -- Asian American Pacific Islander people from all walks of life.

At the ceremony, guest speaker Col. Todd Kimura, commander of United States Army Dental Clinic Command here, stated that Asian American Pacific Islanders have found the wide-open spaces of America to be a land of promise, and an opportunity for jobs and a better way of life. They have also contributed to this nation's security.

"The Army, and specifically here at Fort Irwin and the National Training Center, has benefitted from the many Asian American and Pacific Islanders --who have served across the full spectrum of military and civilian operations," Kimura said.

Kimura explained that the first official record of Asian Pacific Islanders serving in the U.S. military was a group called the Manila Men fighting during the war of 1812 to defend New Orleans.

"Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have fought in the Civil War and every other American war since," said Kimura, who initially enlisted, and served in the Army as a combat medic from 1988 to 1989.

After graduating from the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry in 1996, Kimura studied general dentistry at Fort Benning, Ga., and later trained in orthodontics. He said that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have helped to shape the world in the fields of arts and sciences.

"Finally to sum up the question of how Asian American and Pacific Islanders excel beyond the challenges of equal opportunity, it is like every other people group -- by a strong sense of family values, honoring your words, a strong emphasis on education, faith, grace and a hard work ethic," Kimura said.

After his address, Kimura participated in a demonstration of karate with children from the SKIESUnlimeted program here. The program instructs children and youth, ages six weeks to adolescence, in sports, arts, life skills and academics, and provides opportunities to perform their proficiency. The demonstration was followed by a performance of Hawaiian mele and chant dances by Rhonda Kimura and Hannah Kimura, spouse and daughter of Col. Kimura.