Trailblazers honored during AAPI Heritage Month observance

By Rachel Ponder, APG NewsJune 1, 2023

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Team APG celebrated Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month with remarks, cultural performances, educational displays and food sampling during an observance hosted by the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense in the Sidell Auditorium and virtually May 9, 2023.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Performers show traditional Vietnamese cultural dresses during the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month observance held in the Sidell Auditorium and virtually May 9, 2023.

(Photo Credit: Photo by Stephanie Froberg, MRICD )
AAPI Heritage Month speaker
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Deputy Commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense Lt. Col (Promotable) Mariano Mesngon speaks about Asian American and Pacific Islander trailblazers during the AAPI Heritage Month Observance held in the Sidell Auditorium and virtually May 9, 2023. (Photo Credit: Photo by Stephanie Froberg, MRICD ) VIEW ORIGINAL

Each May, the U.S. Army joins the nation in observing AAPI Heritage Month, which emphasizes the tremendous contributions of Asian American and Pacific Islanders to our country and our history. This year's theme, chosen by the Federal Asian Pacific American Council, was “Advancing Leaders Through Opportunity.”

MRICD Commander Col. Paul Kassebaum provided welcoming remarks and thanked those who planned the event.

“Asian Americans in uniform have written boldly across the pages of our military history, and advanced our social well-being at the same time,” Kassebaum said, quoting Gen. Eric Shinseki, the first Asian-American four-star general and the first Asian-American Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Kassebaum said today’s Army recognizes the sacrifices of AAPI Soldiers including the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. This segregated Japanese American unit served during World War II and is one of the most decorated units in Army history.

Also of note, on Oct. 25, 2017, the U.S. Congress awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to all Filipino and American Soldiers who fought in the Philippines during World War II. Additionally, since 1911, the Medal of Honor has been awarded to 33 Asian American and Pacific Islanders Soldiers.

“Our strength lies in our diversity and the unity of our vision,” Kassebaum said. “We all embrace the same Army values, and we all serve the same great nation.”

The guest speaker was Deputy Commander of MRICD Lt. Col (Promotable) Mariano Mesngon, who is of Pacific Islander heritage and a Guam Reserve Officer Training Corps graduate.

Mesngon recognized and thanked the many AAPI service members who paved the way for him in the Army. He told the story of one trailblazer from his “backyard,” Brig. Gen. Vincente Blaz, from Guam, who lived from 1928-2014.

Blaz is notable, he said, because in 1977 he became the first Chamoru general in the Armed Forces. He explained that Chamorus is the name for indigenous people from Guam and other islands of the Marianas chain, which are U.S. territories.

After his military service, Blaz became the second elected non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives representing Guam.

“The Marine Corps enshrined his legacy as a military leader by naming their first base since 1952, Camp Blaz, located on Guam,” he said.

Mesngon told the audience the Army has provided him with many opportunities. He originally commissioned into the Army Ordnance Corps in June 1997 but left active duty in 2002 to attend graduate school full-time and pursue his Ph.D. In 2008, he returned to active duty as a Medical Service Corps officer.

“Every position I have held in the Army allowed me to contribute to something greater than myself daily,” he said. “The opportunity afforded [to] me enabled my advancement and ability to provide for my family.”

To conclude the formal portion of the event, cultural performances by ATA Marital Arts of Edgewood, Vietnamese Cultural Dresses Áo Dái and Vovinam Viet Vo Dao Federation of Northeastern United States entertained the audience.

The program also featured the national anthem, sung by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Ostrander, with MRICD and Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Daniel D. Kang, command chaplain for the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives Command, provided the invocation.

After the program, attendees viewed cultural displays and ate samples of AAPI food.

Family member Carmelita Johnson said she attends the APG observance every year to celebrate the community and her Fillipino heritage.

“I look forward to the event because I like to see the performances and taste the food,” she said.

Capt. Yunfeng Pan, an MRICD research chemist who is originally from China, led the effort to plan the event. The aim of the program was to show AAPI is a diverse group, she said.

“I was proud I was able to be a part of something that celebrates my culture,” she said.

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