FALLS CHURCH, Virginia – Prior to coming onto active duty in the Army, as a “temp,” she once spent eight hours cleaning out a “very messy office trailer.” Eventually, her ability to type 114 words per minute landed her a job as a transcriber for internationally-renown inspirational speaker Tony Robbins. Ultimately, Kay Wakatake became a lawyer and joined the US. Army JAG Corps. Wakatake, now a colonel, serves as the Staff Judge Advocate (General Counsel) for the Office of the Surgeon General/U.S. Army Medical Command and is this year’s recipient of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association’s (NAPABA) Military and Veterans Service Award.
“I feel like I’m getting an award for doing something that I love to do anyway,” said Wakatake. “I am honored to receive it. I am really most grateful for the trailblazers who came before me and made it possible for me to do things that I’ve done throughout my career. I really just wanted to give back with my volunteer work. I wanted to educate people about the bravery of Asian Americans in the U.S. military, whom many have not heard about,” she said.
Wakatake, of Korean and Japanese ancestry, served for six years as a volunteer editor for the Japanese American Veterans Association’s quarterly publication–the JAVA Advocate. During part of the time that she served as an editor, she was deployed to Iraq. It is possible that the JAVA Advocate is the only veterans’ organization publication prepared from a combat zone. She also served on the executive committee for that organization.
Wakatake volunteered with the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association and co-founded their military and veterans affairs committee. She also served on multiple committees of the American Bar Association, which is the nation’s largest professional legal organization. She has busied herself with putting together veteran-focused panels and helping injured Soldiers to understand relevant legal matters. Wakatake accomplishes all of this volunteer work while simultaneously serving the nation as a full-time Soldier and serving her family as a full-time wife and mom to twin teenage boys.
“I was originally inspired to get active in the Asian veteran community due to the embarrassment of my ignorance about the most decorated unit in World War II,” she confessed.
During her first Army assignment, Wakatake was asked to give a speech to her brigade during Asian Heritage Month. Upon agreeing, she was provided with a binder of information to help guide her speech preparation. The binder contained information about the Japanese American servicemen who served in World War II. More specifically, from the binder information she learned about the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was comprised of Japanese Americans and became the most highly decorated unit in the U.S. military for its size and time in service.
“I was ashamed that I’d never heard of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team before this time” said Wakatake. “I had not known anything about Japanese Americans serving during World War II, and didn’t even know there were some who even served in the U.S. Army fighting in the Pacific theater. I didn’t know about these heroes who put themselves in danger on the side of America, who volunteered for Army service from internment camps where the country had put them and their families. I was motivated to do all I could to educate people about Japanese Americans who served in World War II,” she said.
This new motivation propelled Wakatake into her volunteer efforts in support of WWII veterans and Asian American veterans, which are now being recognized by NAPABA this year.
“Kay has shown a remarkable dedication to her military duties along with passion to assist veterans and those still in service along with their dependents through her volunteer activities,” said her mentor Wade Ishimoto, Captain (ret.), U.S. Army, a Distinguished Member of the Special Forces Regiment and a veteran of Operation Eagle Claw. “She is most deserving of being selected to receive the NAPABA Military and Veterans Affairs award. I don’t know of anyone else who has accomplished as much as Col. Wakatake has in her career,” he said.