FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Leadership, diversity and inclusion were the focus of this year's Asian American / Pacific Islander Heritage Month observance -- an event that reminded Soldiers and civilians of the dedication, traditions and contributions that people of all nationalities bring to America.

During the May 23 event at the Commons, Sgt. 1st Class Armando Bueno, 10th Mountain Division (LI) equal opportunity adviser, read an excerpt from the Asian American / Pacific Islander Heritage Month presidential proclamation:

"Generations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have helped make America what it is today. Their histories recall bitter hardships and proud accomplishments. … As we celebrate centuries of trial and triumph, let us rededicate ourselves to making our nation a place that welcomes the contributions of all people, all colors and all creeds and ensures the American dream is within reach for all who seek it."

Guest speaker Chaplain (Capt.) Seung-il Suh, chaplain for 1st Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, and a native of Seoul, South Korea, shared his own story of leadership, diversity and inclusion with those present.

Suh noted the observance was a "momentous occasion," comparing his emotions to the same humility and pride Gen. Douglas McArthur said he felt while testifying during the Korean War.

"I know y'all are wondering where I come from. Maybe you guessed it from my accent -- I am from the South. South Korea, that is," Suh joked, warming up the audience.

At 15, Suh immigrated with his family to the United States. Although confident that he could easily pick up English, Suh found himself taking the language too literal, causing him to feel excluded.

"I found it very odd that when people greeted me at school. They always wanted me to know what was above my head: 'What's up?' I'd be like, 'well, ceiling, sky,'" Suh said, laughing.

Because of his difficulty to grasp American colloquialisms, Suh said he felt displaced and discouraged during his first year in the U.S. He went from being an outgoing extrovert, to a shy introvert.

"It was during this time (that) my faith became real. My personal relationship with my God helped me to navigate through that very lonely and confusing time," Suh explained. "I began to realize then, that there must be a reason why God allowed me to come to America."

Suh said he realized he had something to contribute to the country that he now calls home.

Serving alongside his fellow countrymen and defending the ideals upon which the country was founded became his purpose.

"I am in America because I can strive together with my fellow Americans to build her up to be (an) even stronger and greater nation," Suh said.

He noted a famous quote from President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address: "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country."

"With that kind of heart of servanthood," Suh explained, "you can succeed anywhere and (at) any level as leaders."
He noted competence and compassion as two characteristics a good leader must have.

"Asian Americans … must use our expertise, degrees, accomplishments and position for the betterment of our society and the improvement of our wider community," Suh said.

He spoke about his mission to fit in during high school, causing him to join the baseball team.
"Wearing the same uniform as my teammates didn't make me feel like a part of team," Suh explained.

Suh said he finally felt like he belonged when his art teacher took an interest in his hopes and dreams.

He produced many works of art under his teacher's tutelage, including a piece he showcased at the event.

"Our country is described by her admirers as a rich tapestry," Suh explained.

What makes his tapestry of cloth pieces work -- or any work of art -- is a common vision, he explained, referring to the framed piece.

"As we celebrate our rich tapestry of culture through events like Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, let us not forget that while we are a diverse nation, we are also a united one," Suh told attendees.

"Let us celebrate our differences but also appreciate our unification as a country founded on the belief that all are equal and all are deserving of liberty and opportunity."

Soldiers and Family Members transformed into Polynesian dancers, taking the stage and awing the crowd with hip sways, chants and colorful traditional costumes.

After traditional dances, including the Kahuku Hawaii Haka, the Melelana Hula Dance and the Tau- aluga, Col. (P) Richard D. Clarke, 10th Mountain Division (LI) dep-uty commanding general - operations, thanked the crowd for their attendance.

He asked attendees to think about the two "great art forms" they saw during the event -- Suh's tapestry and the dance -- and the traditions Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have brought to the U.S.

"Our chief of staff of the Army talks about the strength of our nation is our Army. The strength of our Army is our Soldiers, and the strength of our Soldiers is the Families," Clarke said. "When you look at the Families and the Soldiers we have here today, and … it really brings -- to this division -- a great heritage."

This month, the Defense Department takes time to recognize and honor the dedicated service and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders -- both past and present -- through military service in defense of our nation.

This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese cherry blossom trees planted in Washington, D.C. This effort is an enduring symbol of the friendship shared between the United States and Japan, and a reminder of America's standing as a Pacific nation.