JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Brooke Army Medical Center celebrated Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month during an observance May 22 in the hospital's Medical Mall.

"The strength of our nation is our diversity," said Brig. Gen. George Appenzeller, BAMC commanding general. "The strength of our armed services is our people, and that strength comes from diversity. If you look around there is no difference between us -- we are all Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines."

Army Maj. Thomas Clifford, BAMC's executive officer and guest speaker for the event, reiterated the general's remarks.

"Diversity is the bedrock, it's the strength of our nation, it's the strength of our military," Clifford said. "It's that diversity that we embrace, which is inclusive and it enriches our military and our nation. As a military when we talk about inclusion, it's not just a punch line … inclusion is our advantage. It's a decisive advantage."

Clifford spoke about how proud he was to be a part of the Asian American Pacific Islander culture.

"Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have always been at the forefront of American innovation," he said, as he went on to share several examples of how Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have contributed to American culture throughout the ages.

He also described growing up in a military family with a white father and Korean mother.

"As a young child I really didn't understand race or skin color," Clifford said. "I didn't grow up in a culture, as a military brat, that taught the difference. Everybody was the same."

As he got older, he began to see how people treated his mother differently because she was Korean. When going off post, "there was this sort of exclusion because my mother was Korean," he said. "Those encounters left a mark on me."

Clifford also described how he had to grapple with his own identity when he decided to join the military.

"It come to a head when I was filling out my enlistment contract," he said, because he had to identify his race on the form. "The Army contract doesn't allow you to pick two," he explained.

First he asked his dad, who told him to make his own decision; so he called his mom. Clifford said he was sure she would tell him to check "Asian," but she advised him to check "White."

"It was because of all the things she had experienced in her time here in the United States," he said. "It was those exclusionary factors she was thinking about. She didn't want me to go through all that."

After thinking about what his mother went through, he realized he had no other choice but to check the box that said "Asian" to honor her, because of her struggles when she came to America during a time when there was a lot of racial animosity and bias.

"From that day forward, despite the fact that I carry both cultures, I never check the box that says white, because I embrace that culture of being an Asian American," Clifford said. "I chose to embrace what makes me different."

The event also featured a Hawaiian dance group, a traditional Korean folk dancer and refreshments.

BAMC Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Oates provided closing remarks, thanking those responsible for putting the event together and Clifford for sharing his story.

"Truly we are better because of diversity," Oates said. "We are a team of diversity, and if you look around, we are BAMC because of diversity."