CHIÈVRES, Belgium -- May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time to recognize "the contributions of Asian American and Pacific Islanders have made to our communities and our nation, despite the tremendous unfairness and injustice during our history," said Army 1st Lt. Maria S. Godwin, Assistant S3 (plans and operations) for AFNORTH Battalion at SHAPE.

Godwin was the guest speaker during the day of remembrance held May 30 at SHAPE. "Today, because of our nation's commitment to justice, and commitment to freedom, opportunities are afforded to everyone, which shows on the number of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the Department of Defense," she said.

Throughout history, Asian American and Pacific Islanders have had a big impact on the world and society. "Everybody counts. It's not about the color of your skin. It's about the fact that we are all wearing the same uniform that says the exact same things. That's U.S. Army," said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Samara Pitre, command sergeant major for U.S. Army Garrison Benelux.

According to Godwin, it doesn't matter what part of the world you came from. "You matter and your views matter. Sucess is for everyone who is persistent, driven, self-reliant, open-minded, patient, humble, and passionate about what they do whatever it is," she said.

Godwin hails from the Philippines. She grew up in the Zambales province, the home of the old U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay, and had a very happy childhood, she said. In 1991, the base closed down from an impasse in negotiation and due to a volcanic eruption, which produced a high-speed avalanche of hot and ash gas and lava. All U.S. military dependents were evacuated from the area. "The struggle was real after that. Life was a roller coaster," Godwin said.

However, Godwin didn't give up. She had summer jobs, part-time jobs during college, got some scholarships, received a computer engineering degree and landed a job working in a U.S. military insurance firm called Health Visions Corporation.

Three years later, she decided to move on and experience new opportunities. She landed on a contracting job in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

After two years, she landed jobs in Mayport Naval Station, March Air Force Base, and U.S. Military Academy. "At West Point, I was exposed to the cadets' military physical training and sports, and all kinds of fun events that they do on a daily basis. As I watched, I said to myself 'that looks like fun, I can do all that.' I did my research and found out that the Army is the oldest and biggest of all branches. So I went to see a recruiter, and the next thing I know is I'm at basic training and then advanced individual training as a specialist. I was grateful when the recruiter told me about having a degree and joining the military for the first time," Godwin explained.

Godwin entered the U.S. Army Reserve and continued to finish her master's degree in human resource management.

After being in the Army Reserves for eight years, four of those was on active-duty orders and three years with the US Army Corps of Engineers, she went back working as a civilian employee at 81st Regional Support Command in Fort Jackson.

She applied for direct commission to become an officer after enlisting as a logistician. She was later called to active duty again to work for Joint Special Operations Command in Fort Bragg as the chief of Joint Visitors Bureau.

After working at Joint Special Operations Command for almost a year, Godwin was accepted to the call to active-duty program with her first duty station at SHAPE.

Throughout her life, she has been to 40 countries, 45 states and countless cities. She has held various jobs from hospitality, customer service, human resources to engineering. Notably, she has served as an executive assistant for the Chief of Staff and a protocol officer.

Godwin has already accomplished a lot, but she doesn't want to stop there. She thinks that all she is currently experiencing is linked to all the difficulties she has encountered when she was younger. "I think to myself what if Mt. Pinatubo had not erupted and what if the Naval Base did not close down. I probably would not have experienced all of that I've mentioned," she said.

"There may be obstacles along the way, but we should appreciate them because they may introduce us to something extraordinary."