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Home : News : State Partnership Program
NEWS | May 31, 2024

Washington National Guardsman Reconnects with Palauan Roots

By Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Pena, National Guard Bureau

KOROR, Palau - Air Force Maj. Marvin Yamada Jr. was born on Guam, a 30-mile-long island in the Western Pacific Ocean — a place, it is said, where America’s day begins — to two native Palauans. Today, he serves in the Washington National Guard as a mission crew commander in the Western Air Defense Sector, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

“Both my parents are Palauan,” Yamada said. “They met in Guam, and I ended up being born there, which is how I received my American citizenship. Growing up, I spoke English and Palauan. I’d spend my summers in Palau speaking the language, fishing with my uncles, spending time with my cousins, helping my grandmother on the farms, and learning cultural norms, like respecting your elders.”

Yamada enlisted in the National Guard in 2006 after attending the University of Hawaii. Four years into his service, he was commissioned as an officer.

“I enlisted in the Hawaii National Guard just to try the military,” he said. “I didn’t think it was for me, honestly. Sure enough, 18 years later, it was the best career decision I could have made. Many thanks to my Dad, who served in the Guam and Hawaii Army National Guard and recommended I join.”

Nearly two decades later, after relocating across the Pacific and becoming a husband and father to six children, Yamada never imagined his time in service would reconnect him to his roots. In March, in his dual role as the Malaysia duty officer at an awards banquet, sitting next to Air National Guard Maj. Kristina Roberts, the National Guard Bureau’s Pacific desk officer, Yamada learned the National Guard’s newest state partner was Palau.

The Defense Department National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program develops enduring relationships, improves interoperability, and enhances the readiness of the United States and partner nations to meet emerging challenges.

“I shared my story with her and expressed how happy I was for my country,” Yamada said. “Then, she told me Palau’s state partner would be Guam. I was floored.”

Roberts asked Yamada if he would be willing to come on the partnership signing ceremony trip as a cultural expert and duty officer.

“I exercised my ‘coconut wireless connections’ to help the team get down there and get boots on the ground to ensure logistically everything was working out from the signing ceremony to the reception that followed,” Yamada said. 

With the help of Yamada, members of the Guam National Guard and Palau representatives, the mission was planned and executed.

A week later, in a historic ceremony at the Ngarachamayong Cultural Center in downtown Koror, April 29, Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr., Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, and Army National Guard Col. Michael Cruz, adjutant general of the Guam National Guard, signed a declaration formalizing the nation’s newest state partnership between the U.S. territory of Guam and the Republic of Palau.

Yamada served as the emcee; his father and family members also attended the ceremony.

“It felt like the culmination of my life experiences — being from Palau, having roots in Guam, and serving in the National Guard to assist the United States military,” Yamada said. “I felt incredibly fulfilled throughout the entire experience.”

The National Guard conducts military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals. Although Palau has no military, the State Partnership Program fosters a whole-of-government approach. Opportunities can include exchanges that enable both partners to share expertise in disaster response and many other areas.

Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders of various nationalities and ancestry — Filipino, Southeast Asian, Asian Indian, Polynesian, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese — have a rich legacy of honorable service in the U.S. military dating back to the War of 1812. Their contributions helped shape American history and enriched the fabric of a diverse society.

“Being in the military and representing my ethnicity fills me with pride,“ Yamada said. “Being a member of the Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders community is essential this month because it celebrates our diversity and unity. Our diversity is our strength, and it’s what helps us collectively succeed and win as a team. I want all AANHPI members to know they have a purpose, no matter where they are.”

Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony Whitehead, the senior enlisted advisor to the chief of the National Guard Bureau, served as the senior Guard Bureau representative at the signing ceremony and recognized the observance of Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander month.

“As we culminate AANHPI Heritage Month, we pay tribute to the extraordinary legacy of innovators and their pioneering contributions that have continued to influence the path of our military readiness,” Whitehead said. “Let us take courage from their accomplishments and aspire to achieve excellence and innovation in all facets of our mission daily.”