Fort Hamilton hosted an Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month observance at the Community Club here, May 20.
During May, the Department of Defense celebrates AAPI heritage, honoring the generations of courageous Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Hawaiians who continue to serve proudly and selflessly in the defense of our nation. The month of May is significant, as it commemorates both the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States on May 7, 1843, and the contributions from Chinese pioneers who helped complete the first Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869.
The guest speaker for the observance was Capt. Sungjae Kim, New York City Recruiting Battalion Queens Company commander, who discussed this year’s theme, “Advancing Leaders Through Purpose-Driven Service,” which highlights AAPIs’ advancement as leaders in our military and civilian ranks.
Fort Hamilton’s Command Sgt. Maj. Michael McCabe began the observance by welcoming and thanking the audience for attending.
“We’re paying tribute to all those generations of Asians and Pacific Islanders that have enriched America’s history,” said McCabe. “They are instrumental in our future successes, and we are honoring them for their sacrifices, both military and civilian service.”
The Master of Ceremonies, Chad Williams, Army Substance Abuse Program manager, then introduced Kim to the audience. Kim was born and raised in Seoul, Korea. He enlisted in the U.S. Army as a financial management specialist in 2009, and later attended Officer Candidate School, commissioning as a second lieutenant in 2012.
“I came over to the United States in 2001. I have a bachelor’s and master’s in accounting, which perfectly fits the stereotype that Asians are good at math. Well I hated math and I hated accounting, and that’s why I’m serving in the uniform now,” said Kim, causing most of the audience to laugh.
Kim explained that he use to work for a home loan mortgage company during the 2008-2009 financial crisis. He could not find his purpose working for this private company, so he sought it elsewhere: the U.S. Army. He was not a U.S. citizen then, but twelve years ago, the Army started a pilot-recruiting program, Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, which enlisted non-citizens legally in the country who had certain foreign language or medical expertise. MAVNI-recruited Soldiers were eligible for expedited U.S. citizenship. The program effectively ended in 2017.
“This was a perfect opportunity,” said Kim. “I called the program’s recruiting stations, which were only in NYC at the time. I then got on an AMTRAK, I came up here, and I enlisted 12 years ago here on Fort Hamilton. Ever since then, it’s been a non-stop journey that was full of excitement.”
Kim has held various assignments including serving two tours in Korea and one combat tour in Afghanistan with 3rd Special Forces Group out of Fort Bragg. As he wrapped up his command in Korea, he saw an opportunity to take his current company command position in NYC.
“I immediately thought that would be a perfect fit for me, with my background, knowing that New York City is such a diverse city with about a 15% Asian demographic,” said Kim. “I’ve been fortunate to be in units where diversity is valued and I learned a lot for myself. Growing up in Korea and having spent most of my time in racially diverse areas, like DC, I always took it [growing up in diverse areas] for granted.”
He continues, “When I joined the Army, I met Soldiers who would say that they’ve never met or spoken to an Asian person, or never seen an Asian in my size, and so on. That was a culture shock for me. I began to learn why the Army emphasizes diversity and equal opportunity so much, and how we all learn from each other with different backgrounds and cultural experience. As a company commander, it’s so important to know and understand my formations. Queens Company has more than 10 AAPI Soldiers, more than 10 Hispanic Soldiers, and about 10 Black Soldiers from Jamaica, Nigeria, and so on. That makes up more than 80% of my formation. Future Soldiers that we recruit in the Queens area, three out of four are minorities. The Army is only getting more diverse, as is our society.”
Kim thanked the audience for attending the observance.
“I love being in the Army…it changed my life completely. Wherever I go, I do not consider myself just as an Army officer, but I remind myself that I represent Korean American Army Officer or Asian American Army Soldier. I have to set an example for everyone who served before me and after me. Also, I would like to thank everyone who served before me and is serving now, for setting the conditions and letting us serve in this environment where diversity is valued.”
A special Asian lunch option was available for eating, which included various items representing different AAPI cultures: vegetarian Pad Thai, Som Tam, Poke on seaweed salad, vegetable Samosa, beef Kofta, and Thai ice tea.
Today, in the DoD, AAPIs make up more than 5% of the enlisted corps, 7% of the officer corps, and 12% of the civilian workforce. Nearly three dozen AAPIs have been awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration for valor.
For more information, connect to: https://www.defenseculture.mil/Human-Relations-Toolkit/Special-Observances.