2019 Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

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Senior Master Sgt. Melissa Bilbruck

Headquarters, Illinois Air National Guard

Bilbruck, 40, of Springfield, joined the Air Force in 2000 to add another military branch on her family tree. "Both of my grandfathers fought in WWII," she said. "One was a medic in the U.S. Army who earned a bronze star. The other was an infantryman who fought for Japan and was a POW. My father was a Marine who served in Vietnam. My brother served in the Army." Her husband, Brian, is a military veteran and she has two children, Brody and Lauren.

Pvt. 1st Class Troy Odyssius V. Canencia

Alabama National Guard

Canencia, 21, of Oxford, Alabama, joined in 2017 to learn skills that would make him self-sufficient, he says. The culinary specialist says his favorite part of serving has been "meeting great leaders and new people from different parts of the world."

Capt. Qiguang 'Chino' Chen

Capt. Qiguang "Chino" Chen

Florida National Guard

Chen, 31, of Fort Myers, Florida, joined the National Guard in 2006. "Initially it was a great way for me to pay for college, but as time went on I realized that the impact I can make was beyond my personal education," he said. "I am a first-generation immigrant from China, I immigrated to this country at the age of 11 and became a citizen at 20," he said. "I am grateful for the opportunities this country has given me and I think serving in the National Guard allows me to give back to this great country and community of ours."

Tech. Sgt. John Guardiano

140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Guardiano, an F-16 Falcon crew chief for the Colorado Air National Guard's 140th Wing, Buckley Air Force Base, Aurora, Colorado, is proud to represent the Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage among the ANG ranks. Guardiano enlisted in March 2006 as a way to help support his family and two brothers attending college. In 2018 he attended a Green Flag training event with fellow maintainers at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. "I had a great experience working with my fellow Airmen and building camaraderie within the unit," he said.

Chief Warrant Officer Loc Anthony Hawkins

50th Regional Support Group, Florida National Guard

Hawkins, 51, who joined in 1986, is a property book officer. He says he joined for three reasons – to follow in his stepfather's footsteps (he served in the Navy and wound up retiring from the Indiana National Guard as a first sergeant). "The second reason was for the college benefits and lastly, I felt compelled to defend and serve the citizens of this great country," he says. Hawkins lives in Homestead with his wife, four daughters and mother-in-law. The happiest time of service for him was serving alongside his stepfather for 10 years.

Pvt. 2nd Class Katalina Hwangbo

C Company, 250th Brigade Support Battalion, New Jersey National Guard

Hwangbo, 21, a combat medic in Jersey City, New Jersey, joined the Guard in 2017. "I enlisted in the National Guard to improve who I am and in the hopes of a better future. I gained an immense support system and family that continue to motivate me in all that I do and celebrate my achievements with me," she says. Hwangbo, who traces her lineage to Korean royalty, says her favorite part of serving "has been meeting people from all parts of the world and gaining new and different perspectives and philosophies."

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Timothy J. Jardinico

Joint Force Headquarters, New Jersey National Guard

Jardinico, 35, of Mount Laurel, joined in 2005 for the educational benefits but says "I did not anticipate I would enjoy the military so much to make it a career." His military occupational specialty is all-source intelligence technician and says his favorite part of serving is "the camaraderie and long-lasting friendships." An endurance athlete, he also volunteers weekends at the Philadelphia airport's USO and spends time with his wife Genesis and 3-year-old daughter, Arielle Grace.

2nd Lt. Trang Jorgensen

Iowa National Guard

Jorgensen, 25, enlisted in 2010: "I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself and serve for a greater purpose," says the rifle platoon leader. "I owe this country a great amount for the opportunities that it has granted me … it was only right to serve." Favorite part of service is having a positive influence on the Soldiers in the platoon. "I get to influence a Soldier’s development directly and be part of the crowd that shapes what kind of a Soldier he will be."

Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Kalani Lee

177th Fighter Wing, New Jersey Air National Guard

Lee, 41, of Egg Harbor Township, enlisted in 1997. "I come from a military family so growing up I knew that I would enlist into the military," he says. "The Air National Guard appealed to me because I could pursue a full-time career in law enforcement while still serving in the military." The security forces specialist says his favorite part of military service has been seeing diverse places in his tours of duty.

Cpl. Allison P. Luker

384th Military Police Company, Indiana National Guard

Luker, 23, joined the Guard in 2013 to continue the family military tradition – both parents served. "The observance of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is very important to me because my mother is a first generation immigrant from Vietnam," Luker says. "When she came to this country, she made the choice to serve in the U.S. military. I hold the utmost respect for the choices my mother made – to swear an oath to a nation she was not born into." "My favorite part of serving in the Indiana Army National Guard is the sense of belonging to something greater than myself," he says.

Airman 1 st Class Chanhda Ly

103rd Wing, Connecticut Air National Guard

Ly, 34, a photojournalist in the wing public affairs office, joined in 2017 for the educational benefits but notes that her father was an Army-trained medic during the Vietnam War. "My favorite part of serving is being able to meet such a diverse group of people," she says. "I have gained more of an appreciation of other cultures just by speaking to people and learning about their background." Ly, of East Granby, Connecticut, says the observance "is important because it recognizes the efforts of Asian American and Pacific Islanders who have contributed to the foundation of the United States and defended the nation's freedom."

Command Sgt. Maj. Paul Joseph McGarr

Florida Army National Guard

McGarr, 52, of Pinellas Park, Florida, joined in 1986, mainly because his male ancestors served, he says. The observance "is the chance annually, to be able to honor those fellow Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who served and sacrificed so much before me. Especially the "Nisei" (second generation Japanese Americans) who volunteered and served gallantly during the World War II era when Americans as a whole, did not acknowledge or trust them." He's the first Asian/Pacific Islander descendant to take responsibility as the command sergeant major of the 1st Squadron 153rd Cavalry Regiment.

Capt. Curtis Albert Satoru Nouchi

49th Personnel Company, California National Guard

Nouchi, 29, of Los Angeles, joined in 2009 and is a human resources officer who has also served in Pennsylvania. "My family has a long history with the Army," he says. "Both my grandfathers (Japanese-American and Polish-American sides) and both of my parents served in the U.S. Army. Joining the military gave me the opportunity to serve my community and country while honoring my family's past." The significance of the observation: "I feel it's especially important today to celebrate our differences and foster an environment of inclusivity, as it's always "one team, one fight."

Sgt. Lani O. Pascual

69th Public Affairs Detachment, California National Guard

Pascual, 42, a public affairs officer, enlisted in 2011, when she was 34 and her sons were entering grade school. "As the first generation of my Filipino family born here in America, I understood the importance of opportunity while growing up," she says. "Being in public affairs allows me the privileged task of telling the story of a team and mission I am a part of and believe in. I've been able to travel for all types of training but often cover Guardsmen supporting emergencies and disasters in our state. My favorite moments are connecting with the communities we serve."

Pvt. Sharan Patel

Alabama National Guard

Patel, 19, of Talladega, joined in 2017 for the educational benefits. This month's observance "means it's an inclusive Army and that nothing is based on race," says Patel, a communications specialist.

Tech. Sgt. Nancy Pham

243rd Engineering and Installation Squadron, Maine Air National Guard

Nancy, 24, was inspired by Sunny's service and joined the Air National Guard in 2011. Within her squadron, she has a craftsman certification. She says her favorite part of serving came in 2014. "I deployed with about 35 members from the 243rd to Bagram, Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. I was assigned to an incredible team and learned the foundation blocks of my career while there. It changed my life, and showed me what the Air Force was capable of, what my squadron was capable of, and what I was capable of. I was lucky to be surrounded by remarkable people and had the opportunity to learn from them. The sisters enjoy different off-duty activities: Sunny is a "foodie," and Nancy enjoys her motorcycle, snowboard, hiking or camping.

Tech. Sgt. Sunny Pham

265th Combat Communications Squadron, Maine Air National Guard

Sunny, 28, a cyber systems operations specialist, joined the Guard in 2010 "because the idea of student loans made me nervous. The Air National Guard just seemed like the right fit for me since it was close to home, could help with college expenses, and flexible with having both military and civilian careers while I figured it all out. For her, the best part of serving has been the friendships, she says.

Staff Sgt. Mark G. Salas

Florida National Guard

Salas, 27, moved to the United States from Guam in 2009, joined the Guard in 2012, "and enjoyed every bit of knowledge, mentorship and camaraderie that the Guard has given me," says Salas, a cavalry scout. He joined to fund his schooling but says that within a short time realized how much fun he was having learning to be a Soldier. "I carry my heritage with me," Salas says. "Not by looks or by color but by food. I love to cook; Guam is well-known for the dishes that swarm the island's life; all the good memories of Guam come back to me when I am cooking. So when I feel far from home, I fire up the grill and chill."

Sgt. Alexander Santiago

Alabama National Guard

Santiago, 45, an automated logistics NCO, joined in 2008. The reasons, he says, were "to serve my country and to have a professional career." Favorite parts of service include "traveling and having battle buddies to watch my back."

Lt. Col. Jonathan Masaki Shiroma

California Army National Guard

Shiroma, 55, of Sacramento, joined in 1987 "for the educational benefits, the ability to see the world and first and foremost, the call to serve my country," he says. The retired TV news anchor instructs group exercise and is a personal trainer who loves dogs. In the Guard, he is a public affairs officer at Joint Base Headquarters. The observance is significant "because Asian-American Pacific Islanders have played a vital role in protecting our nation and our way of life and should be recognized for it," he says. "For me, being of Japanese ancestry, the Nisei (second-generation Japanese) from the 442nd Infantry Regiment will always be the example of what it is like to believe in your country even when it doesn't believe in you. Our nation should never forget this as these courageous warriors lived their battle cry, ‘Go for broke' and never looked back," he said.

Staff Sgt. Edward I. Siguenza

69th Public Affairs Detachment, California National Guard

Siguenza, 56, joined in 1993, first serving in his native Guam, then joining the California National Guard in 2006. "At first it was for the extra money, then it became fun," he says. His favorite part of his service is the camaraderie, especially in danger zones, he says. He also enjoys "making a difference for those making a difference" – as a photojournalist, he tells their stories. "I have one wife, six children, three grandchildren, a dog and cat and they all live in my house because no one wants to leave because they all love my barbecue," he says.

Sgt. Nicholas Thongdara

West Virginia National Guard

Thongdara, 24, of St. Albans, West Virginia, serves as a chemical specialist with the 35th Civil Support Team. He enlisted out of high school in 2013 to pay for college and because he didn't know what he wanted for his future. "My father always told me that he wanted me to strive for a better life than he had growing up in Laos," he said. "The Guard offered me full in-state college tuition, along with the opportunity to serve my country while still being able to live in the state I was born and raised." This observance shows how culturally diverse the National Guard is, says Thongdara, who is a professional photographer, freelance artist, hiker and runner.

Spc. Shannon Tonra

250th Brigade Support Battalion, New Jersey National Guard

Tonra, 22, is a patient administration specialist who joined the military in 2014. "I joined because I was intrigued by the idea of being able to serve and get an education at the same time," she says. "Joining the National Guard has made me into a stronger, smarter, and more resilient person." Her favorite part of serving: "I've met people from so many different backgrounds and it's strengthened my open-mindedness." Out of uniform, she does standup comedy.

Sgt. Binh Truong

169th Field Artillery Brigade, Colorado Army National Guard

U.S. Army Sgt. Binh Truong, a satellite communication systems operator/maintainer for the Colorado Army National Guard's 169th Field Artillery Brigade based in Aurora, Colorado, is proud to represent the Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage among the ARNG ranks. Truong is a resident of Denver, and a business owner specializing in luxury garage renovations. He enlisted in 2010 wanting to be a part of something that makes a difference. "I was tired of the typical 9 to 5 and wanted a new challenge," he said. "I've always been in some type of sales position and wanted to do something my kids would be proud of."

Capt. Michael Tu

Connecticut Army National Guard

Tu, 36, a field artillery officer, joined in 2010. "I wanted to serve my country and the state of Connecticut," he says. He is commander, HHC 1-102nd Infantry Regiment (Mountain). "While wearing this uniform, I feel I belong to something that is bigger and greater, not to mention the lineage that takes us back to pre-Revolutionary War times. I am proud of the Guard and am glad to be a part of the greatest team on Earth." When he's not in uniform, Tu works in the aerospace engineering field and rides a motorcycle. The observance "is exceptionally important to me because it recognizes and celebrates the culture, traditions, and history of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. The observance also serves as a reminder to never forget where I came from and how good of a life I have now, by living the American dream. The Army National Guard is also a great equalizer, every day it reminds me of the power of will to succeed, regardless of my skin color and ethnic background."

Staff Sgt. Albert Valdez

Connecticut Army National Guard

Valdez, 36, a motor transport specialist with the 1048th Transportation Company, joined in 2001, inspired by the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. "I felt like it was my duty to serve and protect this country, and to do my part," he says. "I enlisted as a 13B Cannon Crew Member and shipped off to Fort Sill, Oklahoma." The observance is important because "I'm proud to see that Asian Pacific Guardsmen are being recognized for what they do for the military but also what Asian Pacific Americans have done for our country." Valdez came to the U.S. from the Philippines when he was 6 years old. "Even then as a young boy, I remember being proud and amazed at the U.S. Army."

Staff Sgt. Mark Vanbibber

M Company, RSP Recruiting and Retention Command, Illinois Army National Guard

Vanbibber, 31, of Alton, says his favorite part of serving is recruiting. "When I recruit someone from start to finish you build a great camaraderie with future Soldiers," he said. Born on a Navy base in the Philippines, he is half Filipino and half American and speaks Tagalog and English. He and his wife Cassandra are expecting their first baby girl. He joined the military in 2007.

Sgt. Phonsee Vang

Iowa National Guard

Vang, 27, joined in 2013 for the "sense of duty, personal growth, experience and adventure," he says. He is a petroleum supply specialist at Camp Dodge Joint Maneuver Training Center. Vang lives in Des Moines with his wife and son. "It is very important to have these cultural celebrations, Vang says. "There were a lot of achievements and impacts of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders and this helps better explain the stories and history of this group of people."

1st Lt. Lei Wang

Indiana National Guard

Like so many young Soldiers, Wang, 28, enlisted in 2009 to pay for college. However, he says, "I realized joining the National Guard was one of the best decisions I made as it has helped me adapt to American culture." The all-source intelligence analyst works within D Company, 776th Brigade Engineering Battalion, 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in Lawrence. He's a married father of three children who works fulltime at BAE System and pursues an MBA. Born in China, he moved to the U.S. at age 18 and enlisted right before turning 19.