FORT DRUM, N.Y. (May 25, 2017) -- The sound of a conch shell being blown -- a Hawaiian tradition -- welcomed Soldiers, Family Members and Civilians as they gathered to celebrate the contributions of Asian American / Pacific Islanders during a luncheon held May 23 at the Commons.

The theme for the event, co-hosted by the 10th Mountain Division Equal Opportunity Office and the 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade, was "Unite our Voices by Speaking Together."

Sgt. Maj. Riley S. Seau Sr., operations sergeant for 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, and guest speaker for the occasion, said that he was honored to have an opportunity to unite in celebrating the rich cultures and heritages of the many people who are a part of the Asian American / Pacific Islander culture.

Seau was born in American Samoa -- a U.S. territory composed of five main islands and two coral atolls -- located 4,800 miles southwest of the United States in the center of the Polynesian triangle. He spoke of the three structural elements that are the central theme of Samoan culture -- Lotu (church), Matai (chiefs), and Aiga (Family). These three tenets of his culture make up what Seau called "The Samoan Way."

"I joined the U.S. Army from Samoa and I carried what my parents taught me and instilled in me from a very young age -- the Fa'a Samoa or 'The Samoan Way,'" Seau said.

Seau spoke of the importance of the beliefs that shaped his upbringing -- similar to the Army values by which he now lives.

"Two concepts lay at the heart of our tradition, 'Alofa,' which means compassion and love -- which is manifested in yourself, and 'fa'aaloalo,' which means respect and service," he said.

Seau said that respect and service are concepts that children in his -- and other Asian Pacific cultures -- are taught from a very young age.

In these cultures, the entire extended family plays an active role in raising and disciplining youths, instilling in them the importance of respecting those in positions of authority.

In the Samoan culture, Seau said, every village is governed by the patriarch, who is charged with making important decisions for the good of his family.

"It was easy for me to transition into the Army, as I was already taught to respect a hierarchy system of authority," he said. "It teaches us how to interact with one another, but -- more importantly -- it teaches us how to honor those relationships as well."

All members of the village work cooperatively to achieve goals and care for one another -- much like the members of the Army Family must look out for one another.

"We understand that working hard and working together is the only way to succeed," he said. "This idea of family has always followed me in my military career."

Seau said that everywhere he goes, he is always drawn to other Samoans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, because their cultural similarities immediately help them to feel at home with one another.

"Even though we may not know one another, there is still a sense of family about us that is both instinctive and instant," he said. "It is comforting to know that no matter where the Army sends us, we will always have family there."

Seau said he was thankful that the Army takes the time to celebrate the rich diversity that exists within its ranks, and that leaders are supportive of the many different cultures that comprise -- and enrich -- the Army Family.

"Thank you for embracing all that makes us different and allowing these differences to enlighten, encourage and strengthen the communities we live and serve in," he said.

After the formal portion of the ceremony, guests were invited to enjoy a buffet of foods representing some of the cultures that were celebrated, while Family Members entertained attendees with traditional dance and musical performances.