2023 Asian American and Pacific Islander Month

2nd Lt. Tuan Ba

156th Information Operation Battalion, Washington Army National Guard

Ba joined the Guard in 2010 "to see new places, travel and serve this great country that has given so much to my family." He deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom in 2012. Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month "shows the Army’s appreciation for our culture and respecting the cultures of others. Asian American and Pacific Islander is very broad, but we are all Americans first and we enjoy the benefits of so many different and beautiful cultures that contribute to our strong community."

Master Sgt. Lisa Bartos

155th Air Refueling Wing, Nebraska Air National Guard

Bartos, a Guardsman since 2006, was part of the COVID-19 pandemic response in Nebraska in 2020. She considers AAPI Heritage Month a time of reflection. "It is recognizing and seeing the struggle many have had in their lives but also highlighting positive changes. For the first time the Air Force not only has their first ever female as chief master sergeant of the Air Force but she is also of Asian American descent and it is inspiring to see."

Spc. Valerie Diep

C Company, 181st Brigade Support Battalion, Washington Army National Guard

Diep, a combat medic, joined the Guard in 2020 and says being in the Army has helped her build confidence and positivity. "Many Vietnamese Americans have unique experience compared to Chinese Americans or Filipino Americans. If there is something I’d like to see in May, it’s understanding a specific group’s history and culture on a deeper level. My parents have taught me a lot about Vietnamese history that is wildly different to the stories we learn in American textbooks. To this day, I’m constantly learning new things about the Vietnamese diaspora and their history, and how we have tried to heal from war throughout the generations after 1975. I can imagine how many more complicated stories can be found within other Asian American and Pacific Islander groups, and I hope this month provides an opportunity to celebrate and reconcile with their identity and stories."

Sgt. Learena Drake

D Company, 1/189th Ground Support Aviation Battalion, Nevada Army National Guard

Drake, a Chinook helicopter repairer, joined the Guard in 2014 and deployed to Kuwait-Iraq in 2020. Her favorite part of serving is "being able to fly in the aircraft that I maintain. There’s something special about working on something like that, and then being able to sit in it and experience it in flight." This observance "is an opportunity to share my culture and history with those around me. I love to cook, so during this time I take great pride in sharing food from the Visayas where my family is from with my coworkers. For those who inquire I also enjoy sharing the history of the food and why it was prominent in the islands that my family hails from. My family is mostly from the islands of Cebu and Bohol in the Philippines."

Sgt. 1st Class Marvin Fabella

Recruiting and Retention Battalion, Nevada Army National Guard

Fabella has served 21 years this month, including for Operation Noble Eagle and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. "Growing up, I knew that I had more opportunities here in the U.S. than I would ever have had in the Philippines. I owe it all to my parents for doing everything they could to get the family here and I know I owe it to this country for providing those opportunities." Fabella moved to the United States when he was 6 years old. "It is important that we celebrate those Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have served and continue to serve our great nation. I think it’s an important reminder for us all and why we serve."

Lt. Col. Rommel M. Ferrer

Recruiting and Retention Battalion, Nevada Army National Guard

Ferrer served in the Marine Corps from 1991-95 and joined the Guard in 2004. "As a proud Filipino American, AAPI Heritage Month is about learning and understanding our Filipino history and culture. One Filipino tradition known as 'Bayanihan,' or community spirit, is where we help one another without expecting anything in return. It’s also about living the American dream and continuing to advocate our principles and values, having our voices heard through peace and kindness, removing the shade of hate, racial discrimination and inequality."

2nd Lt. Brigid Gallego

282nd Combat Communications Squadron, Rhode Island National Guard

Gallego, a communications officer, joined the Guard in 2012. Her favorite part of serving is "the connections you make. It's such a small state, but all our members know everybody and when you need something you always know who can help you out." Her last deployment was to Niger in 2018. She says of her Thai heritage and this month's observance: "I like that we get to appreciate different types of cultures and backgrounds. The U.S. is such a melting pot – the military is such a melting pot! My husband is Colombian, and I love to show him my culture. But I don’t just celebrate it this month, I celebrate my culture year-round."

Spc. Owen Gardiner

Charlie Company, 1-143rd Infantry Airborne, Rhode Island Army National Guard

Gardiner joined the Guard in 2018 "to travel, learn new skills, meet different people, challenge myself physically and mentally." He is deployed to Kosovo. "Getting to know about your own culture helps you understand and discover more about yourself. Learning and talking with people can help break down barriers that separate us negatively. I think being proud and confident in who you are regardless of background, race, religion or sexual preference is important. I think we could all be a little better in life, being more helpful and accepting by supporting each other’s differences."

Senior Master Sgt. Michael Hignite

152nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Nevada Air National Guard

An Air Guardsman since 1989, Hignite deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 and Kuwait in 2015. His favorite part of serving is the different missions, travel and people. He says this month's observance of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is about "acceptance and recognition."

1st Sgt. Michelle Ochoa-Kulukulualani

Bravo Company, Recruiting and Retention Battalion, Nevada Army National Guard

Ochoa-Kulukulualani has deployed overseas four times, including combat tours in Iraq. "This observance means a lot to me as an immigrant coming to the United States. I witnessed firsthand the sacrifices made and tribulations endured by immigrant parents who left their homeland to start over in a new place. My mother left the Philippines for the United States when I was 3 years old to work as a nurse. My sister and I were separated from my mother between the ages of 3-10 years old, living from one family member to another, as she built a foundation for us in the United States before she came back to get us. I never took her sacrifice for granted, thus I wanted to serve my country who gave AAPIs countless opportunities, live the American dream, and creating our own contributions to make this country better."

Staff Sgt. June Lee

189th Medical Group, Arkansas Air National Guard

Lee came to the United States from Thailand in 2015 and says joining the Guard the following year was the best decision of her life. She served in Qatar assisting refugees from Afghanistan and helped deliver two babies during the deployment. "AAPI Heritage Month helps raise awareness of our culture and legacy. It helps recognize the contributions of AAPI people in America and allows me to embrace my own Asian heritage. I want to honor the legacy and the sacrifice of all the Asian Americans and the Pacific Islanders."

Capt. Nick Lighthouse

National Guard Bureau, Nevada Army National Guard

Lighthouse, a signal corps officer, joined the Guard 13 years ago and has served in Kuwait and Iraq. To Lighthouse, this observance is about "respect. You don’t have to agree with someone’s POV (point of view), but you can respect them."

Spc. Alexander Makinano

81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Washington Army National Guard

Makinano followed his grandfathers into the military, joining the Army in 2013 and the Army Guard in 2019. The highlight of his service has been traveling all over the world. Makinano says this observance allows him to "honor my grandfathers. My grandfathers served in times where Filipino Americans were segregated and not allowed to be noncommissioned officers. It truly is an honor."

Officer Candidate Michelle Nguyen

1084th Transportation Company, Louisiana Army National Guard

Nguyen, a motor transportation specialist, has served in the Guard since 2016. For her, this observance is about "being able to educate and represent a marginalized culture. ... I am from a small Vietnamese community in New Orleans East. Growing up, you don’t see many Vietnamese-American females joining the military. I wanted to be that one that did. To show the younger version of myself that it is possible, to pave a way for the future generation."

Capt. Tuan M. Pham

217th Brigade Support Battalion, Arkansas National Guard

Pham, a Guardsman since 2006, is a logistics officer who deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2008. This month's observance "allows recognition to all Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. I feel there is a need for this recognition in hopes that other individuals with the same heritage will feel the need to serve as I did."

Tech. Sgt. Brittany Sounyaphong

188th Communications Flight, Arkansas Air National Guard

Sounyaphong is a cybersecurity specialist who has served since 2012. "This observance means so much to me because I am so proud of my heritage, culture, family, and where I come from that I want people to learn about. My family comes from the landlocked country of Laos between Vietnam and Thailand. My family spent scary and dangerous times escaping from communist and some time in unknown refugee camps. ... I want to ensure I represent my heritage, womanhood, and servitude in the best light I possibly can because little girls who look like me, especially my daughter, are always watching."

Spc. Zierry Eme Carl T. Tagbas

C Company, 1-112th Aviation Security and Support, Washington Army National Guard

Tagbas joined the Guard in 2019 and says the highlight of her service "is definitely meeting new colleagues." She came from the Philippines when she was 13 years old. "To me, as the demographics of the United States shifts, it is important to frame the way we understand 'American' identity. Asian Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, African Americans, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans all shape American identity and collectively make up American history. We share our heritage and customs with many others, but it impacts each one of us in unique ways. I hope that all Asians, Asian-Americans, and Pacific Islanders will embrace their heritage and share it with others."

1st Lt. Emily Tran

1-141st Field Artillery Battalion, Louisiana Army National Guard

Tran joined the Guard in 2016 "to challenge what I thought I was capable of." She has served on 17 State Partnership Program exchanges with Louisiana National Guard partners Belize and Haiti. Tran, a first generation Vietnamese American, says this observance is a celebration of being part of the Army team. "I rarely see other Soldiers that look like me, and I feel a sense of cultural pride when I do meet fellow service members who share a similar background as me. I hope to inspire and motivate others to serve humbly and excel in the military as we continue to grow the diversity and strength of our force."

Chief Master Sgt. Mark Wasserbauer

148th Operations Group, Minnesota Air National Guard

Wasserbauer followed his father and grandfather into the military, joining the Air Force in 1988 and the Air National Guard in 1994. He has deployed multiple times, including to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq twice. Asked what this observance means to him, he said: "Throughout my travels, I am amazed at how much you can still learn from others but also how great the 148th Fighter Wing performs when the rubber hits the road. On an operational basis, there is no one better!"