In command of our future, grateful for our past

By Lt. Col. Christopher GinMay 14, 2024

Lt. Col. Christopher Gin
Lt. Col. Christopher Gin (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

This May, during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage month, I am honored to share my story of service. I am a third-generation American of Chinese descent on my father’s side and Filipino descent on my mother’s. It gives me great pride to acknowledge those who paved the way for my American journey in the U.S. Army starting with my grandfathers, both immigrants from their respective countries and both U.S. Army Soldiers.

Some of my earliest memories are from family gatherings in my grandparents’ home where photos of my grandfathers in the U.S. Army pinks and greens were ever-present on the mantels. My dad’s dad was a grocer and businessman in Salinas, California when World War II began, so when he was eventually drafted, he was assigned as a cook, trained at Fort Ord, California and eventually stationed at Ft. Lewis, Washington. My mom’s dad was a carpenter by trade but was drafted into the field artillery while living in California, and eventually deployed to the Pacific. Their stories of service to their adopted country inspired me to serve in our great Army.

I grew up in the 1980s and 90s in the Silicon Valley, specifically in Fremont, California, now home to the modern Tesla factory. Like many AAPI homes, my parents placed a premium on academic excellence starting at a young age. Education was the great equalizer for minority families in America, and a guaranteed way to secure a future for us. College was really the only acceptable option after high school, but I felt a strong desire to serve in the Army like my grandfathers.

My parents both preferred me to follow in their footsteps and attend UC Berkeley to become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer like most of my AAPI peers, but my calling led me to the United States Military Academy. Despite their initial misgivings, I was fortunate to have my parents’ blessing and support, especially after the attacks on 9/11 occurred only three months into my first year, just 50 miles south of where I was stationed at West Point.

Maternal grandparents of Lt. Col. Gi, circa 1944.
Maternal grandparents of Lt. Col. Gi, circa 1944. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

When the Twin Towers fell and the cadets ahead of me graduated directly into combat, I could not help but think of my grandfathers and their calls to service at a young age. It was their legacy and honor, earned decades before I was even born, that made me resolute in my decision to commission as an officer.

Over the last 19 years of active-duty service, I have been blessed to survive combat deployments, hard Army schools, and demanding Army bosses. What I am most grateful for is the opportunity to lead America’s sons and daughters in peace and war, but to do so in my own way.

The Army is great at letting leaders be themselves and bring their own backgrounds to the job. I believe it is because of our diverse backgrounds and diverse thought that the U.S. Army stands alone in its capabilities and lethality. The Army trained me to be a leader of character, but many of those character traits came from my Asian-American upbringing, even before I joined.

For instance, striving to be excellent, but not self-promoting to the detriment of the group is something I learned before I put on my first set of boots. Chinese culture, in particular, values collective efforts over individual grandstanding. Believe it or not, I see this value mirrored in the U.S. Army daily much more than our civil society.

From my Filipino heritage, I believe I inherited the value of loyalty to those with whom I serve. Like Filipinos who fought for self-determination, independence, and democracy over the last four centuries, I feel a deep connection to my Soldiers who fight to protect our Constitution and collective future. No matter what the mission or adversary, our loyalty is developed through shared struggle, laughter, and camaraderie that is unique to being an American Soldier.

There are voices in the ranks, in our retired ranks, and in our public discourse that say any attention — not to mention an entire month of attention — given to our differences is anti-American or is a diversion from warfighting. I do not see my ethnicity or cultural heritage at odds with today’s Army, nor do I see recognizing our differences as a distraction from our mission. On the contrary, I believe acknowledging the values that each Soldier brings to the Army from their heritage gives us a better understanding of the world we face.

When Soldiers start from points of similarity, it helps them more quickly internalize the Army Values as they develop as members of this great team and leaders of character. It is true that not all cultural norms fit into the Army’s Values. I believe there is a point where Soldiers must decide if they can adjust their norms and values to fit the mold of their chosen profession, or to exit the force, but that decision does not always happen on day one.

Paternal grandparents of Lt. Col. Gin, circa 1943.
Paternal grandparents of Lt. Col. Gin, circa 1943. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

If we are to lead a multi-racial, multi-cultural Army representative of the American people in a world that is filled with diverse adversaries, I believe we must give ourselves, and our Soldiers, some grace to grow into these values and find our common ground. Therefore, I think it fitting that we embrace discussion, acknowledgement, and acceptance of every man and woman in uniform, to include their backgrounds. These efforts make us a stronger, more cohesive, and ultimately, more lethal force.

As I near the end of two years in battalion command of the largest MI battalion in our Army just a few miles from where my grandfathers enlisted at Fort Ord, I am humbled to have had the opportunity and trust to lead at this level.

I am thankful for the Asian American and Pacific Islander Soldiers, NCOs, and officers in my formation for carrying on the legacy of those that have gone before us. To my knowledge, I have not had the privilege of being the first AAPI to accomplish a significant service milestone in my career, and I am perfectly content with that.

Thanks to my predecessors from across the AAPI spectrum, glass ceilings were broken, and doors were opened, as they proved their worth to America’s Army. What I would not be content with is being the last AAPI officer to achieve significant milestones be it as West Point graduate, a Ranger School graduate, a Company Commander, or a Battalion Commander.

From my units’ Privates to First Sergeants, from our OSJA to our clinic leaders (lawyer and doctor, respectively), and from the cooks to the artillerymen, like my grandfathers all those years ago, AAPI Soldiers are here for the U.S. Army. We are proud of our own heritage, but also respect and appreciate those who are different from us, who have also chosen a life of service.

This month, we take pause to show gratitude for the opportunities the U.S. Army continues to afford us through service, as we each individually and as a community, strive to be all we can be.