Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have shaped the history of the United States and have had their lives dramatically influenced by moments in its history. Every May the Defense Department joins the rest of the nation in celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Army Lt. Col. Deepa Hariprasad was born in Mysore, India, in 1977. When she was 3 years old, her parents, both of Indian descent, emigrated to the United States.
Hariprasad said her parents decided to come to the U.S. for better opportunities and for a better life, especially for their children. She noted that her parents had an arranged marriage, something still very common in Indian culture, although she and her brother did not go that route.
India — the second most populous nation after China — is a land of many languages. Her parents speak Tamil and Kannada with each other and among Indian friends. However, they use English with their children so while Hariprasad can understand what they're saying, she said she cannot speak those languages.
Hariprasad's mother was one of 11 children. Most of her mother's brothers live in the United States and her mother's sisters live in India. "We have a strong sense of family and we meet at least once a year for mini family reunions."
Although Hariprasad didn't choose an arranged marriage or embrace some of the more traditional aspects of Indian life, there are cultural norms that she does embrace. For example, she loves to cook Indian food, and with such a variety, it's easy to be a vegetarian, she said. She also enjoys wearing Indian clothing and watching Indian movies — with English subtitles.
In 2003, Hariprasad received a direct commission into the Army, serving as an audiologist in the medical branch. "The initial appeal was to try something new, serve my country, and have the opportunity to live in different places."
An audiologist diagnoses and treats hearing loss and also focuses on the prevention of hearing loss.
"Providing health education to our patients and teaching service members and noise-exposed civilians about hearing loss prevention is the favorite part of my job, because I feel I am making a difference and helping others improve their quality of life. I also enjoy learning about people's experiences and hearing their perspectives," she said.
Hariprasad said that in Indian culture, women are what might be described as shy or reserved.
"While serving in leadership positions in the military, I had to overcome my shyness, become comfortable with public speaking, learn to speak up, and develop the personal courage to have difficult conversations. These were not skills I was equipped with while growing up," she said.
"I grew up with a very different belief system, always worried about what other people would think and I did not have the confidence to try new things or stand up for myself or others. I believe that my positions in the Army and Air Force have helped shape my character and personality for the better," she said, noting that of her 16 years of active duty service, five years as an audiologist in the Air Force was sandwiched in the middle of her Army service.
"I still am shy but have learned to communicate better, learned to hold people accountable for their decisions and their work performance, and I quickly learned to speak up and do the right thing, no matter what others may think. These were not things that came naturally to me before I joined the service," she said.
"It is an honor and privilege for me to serve and provide healthcare for our veterans and their family members who sacrifice so much to serve our country. Being an officer in the military has helped me develop discipline and improve my physical fitness," she said.
Being physically fit also contributes to being strong mentally, she added.
She said serving in the military has also resulted in lifelong friendships and given her travel opportunities she might not otherwise have had. She said she also enjoys the teamwork and camaraderie aspects of service life.
Currently, Hariprasad is the director of the Audiology and Speech Center, at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland.
While at WRNMMC, Hariprasad has racked up many accomplishments, including:
- "Best of the Best" Clinic Award for high patient satisfaction rates.
- Sustained clinical and readiness operations amidst COVID-19 pandemic, serving over 12,000 patients in 2020 and assuming responsibility for hearing readiness exams during audiology clinic closures across the National Capital Region.
- Supervised 14 military and civilian employees who received command level recognition for outstanding contributions to the Walter Reed audiology and speech mission.
- Maintained the Retiree at Cost Hearing Aid Program amidst personnel shortages, remaining one of few military treatment facilities providing hearing aid services to retirees at significant cost reduction.
- Procured over $500,000 in funding to start a pediatric hearing aid program and establish Walter Reed's first-ever pediatric hearing aid program to improve capabilities and access to beneficiaries.
Incidentally, Hariprasad said she's the first Indian-American to serve as director of the Audiology and Speech Center at Walter Reed.
Before serving at Walter Reed, Hariprasad said she provided pre- and post-deployment hearing testing and annual readiness testing for over 100,000 soldiers and noise- exposed civilians.
Hariprasad was married in 2002, a year before receiving her commission. Her husband, Air Force Maj. Nkumu B. Mandungu, currently serves as a war planner with the Air National Guard. They have two children, Amanda, 11, and Samantha, 8.