FORT BRAGG, N.C. –
Although culture is celebrated year-round, May is Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month. According to the Asian Pacific Heritage website (https://asianpacificheritage.gov/), it was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, of which most workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.
“Around the first week of April every year the Chinese people celebrate the day of the dead, also known as Qing Ming, to show respect to loved ones who passed, which is similar to the Mexican holiday of ‘Dia de Los Muertos’,” said Staff Sgt. CK Lui, a civil affairs noncommissioned officer with the 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion, based out of Newport, Rhode Island.
Lui, from Boston, is a first generation Chinese American and is the only member of her family to have served in the U.S. military. She says that having a mix of Asian and American cultures has helped her understand and accept other ethnic groups, cultures, and social norms that differ from her own.
“Many people believe that the military consists of just the infantry,” said Sgt. Qurat Ain, a civil affairs noncommissioned officer with the 443rd CA Bn. “It is important to highlight all the different roles our military plays to build and protect our country, and our partner nations. Since the United States is so diverse, it is important that it is represented in our military as well.”
Ain was born in Pakistan and immigrated to the U.S. in 2006. Serving in the military is a bond she shares with her older brother, who served in the Marine Corps Reserve, and her sister, who is currently serving in the U.S. Air Force.
She attributes her heritage to her continued success as a civil affairs specialist in the Army Reserve, having previously deployed to one predominately Muslim country, and having another upcoming deployment to support the Combined Joint Task Force—Horn of Africa.
“Majority of the population in Pakistan is Muslim,” said Ain. “My religious background has been helpful in raising cultural awareness and sensitivity when conducting missions.”
Civil Affairs Soldiers engage and partner with communities around the world, to increase stability, engage local governments, and improve quality of life for civilians.
“Culture has played a significant role in how I approach Civil Affairs missions,” said Maj. Martha Maurer, assigned to the 443rd CA Bn. as a civil-military operations center team chief. “I am much more sensitive, aware, and considerate of other cultures. There are rules, roles, and religious nuances that greatly impact our interactions,” she added.
Maurer, who was born in Chicago, grew up in Tacoma, Washington, and currently resides in Arlington, Virginia, is a first generation American of Thai and Cambodian descent. Like Ain, her immediate family has a history of service to the U.S. military, with her older brother having served in the Navy and her younger brother still on active-duty with the Army.
“I believe that my culture has enhanced the mission because I understand that traditions impact social interactions,” said Maurer. “A person can be unintentionally disrespectful if they are unaware of how to effectively communicate across gender and age spectrums.”
Sgt. 1st Class Albert Yao, a civil affairs team sergeant with the 443rd, echoes the same sentiments of how culture has been beneficial.
“Coming from a different background helped me think outside of the box during key leader engagements when I was assigned to a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Iraq in 2011,” said Yao.
He is a first generation Asian American from Taiwan. His parents were apprehensive about him joining the military, but as a senior noncommissioned officer, he feels that his service has had an impact on other Asian American Soldiers.
“It's important for junior Soldiers to know that they can succeed in the military and have role models who look and sound like them,” said Yao.
Both Lui and Mauer feel it’s important to highlight diversity within the military and were honored to participate in sharing their experiences for Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
“Different ethnic background brings different perspectives, experiences and skills to a workplace, which enhances better decision-making and solutions,” said Lui.
Maurer added, “It’s important to highlight diversity in the military, everyone to our left and right brings something different to the table. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of our teammates makes us a more combat effective and cohesive unit.”