ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- First Army hosted an observance honoring Americans of Asian and Pacific Island descent for their military and civilian contributions on May 16 in Heritage Hall.

The observance included a sampling of Asian food and a performance by the University of Iowa Thai and Southeast Asian Dance Group.

Serving as guest speaker was Ms. Alma Reed, vice president of the Philippine Cultural Group of Michigan, a non-profit cultural group dedicated to sharing and retaining Filipino heritage. Reed, a native of Cebu, Philippines, spent much of her life in Iowa before moving to Michigan last year.

"Asians and Pacific Islanders have a long history in the United States," Reed told audience members. "One of the earliest groups to arrive here were Filipino sailors in the 1700s who settled in Louisiana. Then during the 1840s, Chinese sailors and merchants arrived in New York and California."

However, prejudice and discriminatory laws prevented Asians and Pacific Islanders from fully blossoming. "It was only with the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act that the country's Asian and Pacific Islander population began to grow significantly," Reed said.

Despite sometimes being treated poorly by their adopted country, including being sent to World War II internment camps, Asians have served the United States with pride.

"Asian Americans have been a big part of the U.S. military," Reed said. "In World War II, a substantial number of Asians served in the U.S. Armed Forces, many in combat and some as translators and interpreters." That tradition of service has continued with an Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, and U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a retired Illinois National Guard lieutenant colonel who lost both her legs in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In closing comments, First Army Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Michael S. Tucker recounted some of the significant contributions Asians and Pacific Islanders have made to the United States. "If it had not been for Chinese workers, we would not have completed the Transcontinental Railroad for another 30 years," he said. "How terrific it is that the Department of Defense carves out time for us to recognize the diversity of our great country. That diversity is our strength."