NEWS | May 20, 2016

Minnesota Guard member recognized for cultural influence and leadership

By Master Sgt. Blair Heusdens Minnesota National Guard

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Minnesota National Guard Warrant Officer Candidate Alan Lee received the Federal Asian Pacific American Council's Military Meritorious Service Award in Orlando, Florida on May 10, 2016. He was also recognized May 18 with a resolution in the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives.

"To be selected as one out of 12 in the entire nation, I'm really honored," said Lee. "I'm still speechless about it, but I'm truly humbled for it. I don't even believe that I'm deserving of it, I just feel like I'm doing something for the community and for the National Guard."

Lee, whose parents were sponsored to come to America in 1980 as Laotian refugees in Thailand, was born in California and moved to Minnesota in 1990 to be with the rest of his large, extended family. Growing up, Lee heard stories about his grandfather and uncle serving in the Vietnam War which motivated him to want to serve as well. He enlisted at the age of 17 when he was a junior in high school.

Lee was the first of his more than 100 first cousins to enlist in the military. His family was hesitant about his decision at first, but they have grown to be proud of his service and his accomplishments.

In addition to his full-time role as an enlisted personnel manager in the Minnesota National Guard, Lee volunteers as the advisor for the Minnesota National Guard's Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage special emphasis council where he helps to build relationships with members of the Asian Pacific community.

"I really joined to provide mentorship and cultural influence throughout the Minnesota National Guard and at the same time to help the communities understand that we are here to support them in the community, not just to recruit," said Lee.

Mentorship is an important part of the Minnesota National Guard's goal of increasing diversity within the organization. While recruiters have been successful recently, with nearly 27 percent of new Minnesota Army National Guard recruits coming from diverse populations in 2015, retaining those diverse individuals continues to be a challenge.

"The biggest issue isn't recruiting now, the biggest issue is retaining," said Lee. "How do we convince these guys to stay in and continue diversifying the force; not just at the initial phase but to continue on so that we can have more diversity at the senior grades as well."

Lee says that cultural awareness can help leaders identify future leaders and encourage them to reach their full potential. This was the case for him when a mentor took the time to let him know that he was valued.

"What's important about our culture is that some of us grew up through adversity which brings a different perspective on leadership and mentorship and if given the right opportunity, they could excel," said Lee.

Lee was set on getting out of the military after his first enlistment, but one of his leaders had bigger plans for him. He recognized his potential and told Lee that he was a good Soldier, leader and mentor, who had more to contribute to the organization as a whole.

"For me, it took my mentor to actually say, 'Hey, I'm going to make you my squad leaders so I need you to step up.' And then that's what I did," said Lee. "But really, culturally, I probably wouldn't have done that if it wasn't for him telling me to step up. Some members might just need that extra little push to ignite the fire."

Now Lee hopes to ignite that fire in others by encouraging them to live up to their potential. Personally, he hopes to reach the highest levels of the organization as either the command chief warrant officer or senior enlisted advisor one day.

"The reason why I aim so high is because fellow Soldiers don't see anyone like us at the top," said Lee. "Instead of them getting out like they do, I want to be an inspiration to them to say, 'Hey, if Lee can make it up there I could too.'"