FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. – Throughout May, we celebrate Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which is an annual celebration that recognizes the historical and cultural contributions to the United States by individuals of Asian and Pacific Islander descent.
One of those individuals is garrison employee John Bowers, a 24-year Army veteran, currently working as an instructor with the Training Support Center.
Bowers is originally from Guam but was born in Las Vegas when his mother took a trip to visit family while she was eight months pregnant. He and his mother returned to Guam after the visit and lived there for two years before his family made the permanent move to Las Vegas.
Growing up, family was always an important aspect of his life. His mother ended up buying a house next to her sister, and he was always surrounded by his extended family.
While in Las Vegas, there were times when as many as 20 people were living at his mother’s house. Bowers said he thought it was normal to grow up in a house with so many people around.
“Sometimes it would be me, my grandfather and four or five of my male cousins all sleeping in the living room,” Bowers said. “My uncle, aunt and his daughters would be in a bedroom. My grandma and sister would be in another, and my mom would have her own room.”
His last name was originally Atoigue, but it was changed to Bowers in 1983 when his stepdad adopted him. It was a difficult decision for Bowers to change his last name but was important to his mother.
“I wanted my mom to be happy, she met an Air Force guy who totally changed our lives,” Bowers said. “At that time, I had never met my biological dad, and I didn’t know what to say, but didn’t want to hurt my mom’s feelings, so I ended up saying ‘yes.’ I would’ve kept my last name if I had known how much I would’ve been [exposed] to my culture later in life.”
Bowers joined the Army after high school, and it was the first time he met other Chamorro people (indigenous people of the Mariana Islands, including Guam) outside of his immediate family. His sergeant major at Fort Cavazos, Texas, (formerly Fort Hood) was also Chamorro and would invite Bowers to barbecues.
Throughout his 24-year career, he spent time in Kentucky, Arizona, Texas, Germany, Hawaii, South Korea and Colorado. There were always people around him with a similar background, but it wasn’t until he went to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, that Bowers gained a strong connection to his roots and the island culture.
It was the first time since he was two years old that he was surrounded by a lifestyle similar that of his home. He felt a sense of belonging, and that it was where he was meant to be.
“I got there and thought, ‘I don’t want to step back on the mainland again,’” Bowers said. “I plan on hopefully retiring there one day, even though it’s not my native island.”
That strong sense of family has continued for Bowers. He has five daughters and one son. Bowers said he tries to introduce his culture to his family without forcing it on them.
Bowers’ youngest child, his son Tano, which means land in his native language of Chamorro, is being raised in a more traditional way and is being introduced to the island culture. Bowers wants to take him to Guam to help him grow his understanding of the family roots.
“I want my son to have the exposure to the culture,” he said. “He is going to have that American pride ingrained in him but needs to understand that this is also his culture and not to forget it.”
Whenever Bowers meets another Chamorro or Pacific Islander, he feels an immediate connection, and they instantly become family. They buy each other beers, invite one another to barbecues, and it’s like they’ve known each other for years.
“When islanders see other islanders, it’s almost like a celebration,” Bowers said. “You’re just family all of a sudden.”
# # #
Fort Huachuca is home to the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence, the U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command/9th Army Signal Command and more than 48 supported tenants representing a diverse, multiservice population. Our unique environment encompasses 946 square miles of restricted airspace and 2,500 square miles of protected electronic ranges, key components to the national defense mission.
Located in Cochise County, in southeast Arizona, about 15 miles north of the border with Mexico, Fort Huachuca is an Army installation with a rich frontier history. Established in 1877, the Fort was declared a national landmark in 1976.
We are the Army’s Home. Learn more at https://home.army.mil/huachuca/.