ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, May 5, 2010) -- The Army is celebrating strength through diversity with Asian Pacific American Heritage throughout the month of May.

The observance kicked off Monday in Arlington, Va., where Tammy L. Duckworth, assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs, and an Asian-American, addressed members of the U.S. Army Legal Services Agency.

"Even though I love good equipment -- guns and tanks and helicopters are not what make this nation strong," said Duckworth. "They are important, and I am definitely partial to the helicopters, but that's not the strength of this nation. The strength of this nation is us. It's our diversity."

Duckworth went on to detail for the audience the unique diversity that one can only experience as the result of being American.

"When I went on exercises like Bright Star to Egypt and I climbed out of my aircraft as a young female platoon leader, and I was in the front seat as one of the pilots, and I had my Hispanic crew chief and an African-American pilot in command and the Egyptian Army looked at us and said 'can we look at your aircraft' Who's in charge'' We all pointed to each other," said Duckworth.

When you are out in the field, you know which units are the Americans she said, "Not because of the uniform, but because of the diversity of the people in that unit."

The daughter of a Thai immigrant with a sixth-grade education and an American Soldier, Duckworth was born in Thailand and moved to Hawaii where she went to college. She later joined the Army and became a helicopter pilot in the Illinois National Guard.

While flying a mission north of Baghdad in 2004, her helicopter was brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade. Her injuries resulted in the amputation of both of her legs.

While recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Duckworth was one of the senior amputee patients. Many younger Soldiers and their family members came to her with questions and issues regarding their Army and veterans benefits. It was this experience that led her to become a leading national advocate for the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. In February 2009, President Obama appointed her to serve as assistant secretary of public and intergovernmental affairs for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

There are more than 340,000 veterans of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage. They make up 1.5 percent of the 23 million veterans. To further honor their sacrifices, the Army has created an interactive website detailing the service of Asian-Pacific Americans starting in the Civil War. There are biographies, videos and links to other resources. This page can be found in the features section of Army homepage at

"Asian-Americans literally moved mountains." Duckworth said of their effort in World War II. "They liberated Dachau, while their family members were still sitting in internment camps."

"You bring strengths to the fight coming from your background. Whatever that is: white, black, yellow. ..that's the strength of our country, " Duckworth continued.

Congress passed a resolution declaring the first week of May to be Asian American week in 1978. The observance was later expanded to include the whole month.

Observances will be held at installations across the Army throughout the month of May. These will include a variety of speakers, music and dancing demonstrations and food.