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Asian-Pacific American Awardees Discuss Culture-Sharing

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

SAN FRANCISCO, May 21, 2004 – When Army Spc. Hong Huynh's father immigrated to the United States after the Vietnam War, he gave her these words of advice:

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David S.C. Chu, right, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and Federal Asian Pacific American Council president Krupakar B. Revanna present Air Force Master Sgt. Jerry M. Dollente, with a meritorious service award for his efforts to promote cultural diversity at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. Dollente is an information systems manager with the 615th Air Mobility Squadron and also serves as president of the Asian-Pacific-Islanders Council at Travis. The award presentation took place during Asian-Pacific American Heritage month ceremonies in San Francisco May 19. The event was co-hosted by the DoD and the Federal Asian Pacific American Council. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample.
  

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"Always respect the United States, respect the citizens, do your part in our country, and do your best because we have to value our freedom."

This week the California National Guard member was recognized for honoring her father's words. Huynh was one of nine service members who stood center stage at an awards luncheon in San Francisco May 19 honored by the Defense Department and the Federal Asian Pacific American Council for their efforts to bring diversity in the federal workplace.

The service members received meritorious service awards from the council during an Asian-Pacific Heritage Month celebration that was part of a weeklong FAPAC training conference.

Huynh, 23, assigned to a California National Guard medical detachment in Mather, near Sacramento, said in receiving the award that she was just doing her job.

"I was just doing my part in the military, in the community and in life," she said. "So I feel like I don't deserve this award but anyway I feel really honored."

Huynh was recognized for her volunteer work in the Vietnamese community in Mather, where she assists needy families and mentors students at Valley High School, which she attended.

She said education is very important to her, even though her family was reluctant when she signed up for the military while still in high school. She said her father told her that education comes first. But, she replied, "I can do both."

Huynh joined the National Guard and attended school part time, eventually completing her bachelor's degree in biology, with a 3.3 average. She now uses her education to help train California Army National Guard medics. She is also a qualified CPR instructor and teaches emergency medical technician courses in anatomy and physiology to he fellow guardsman, she said.

Other awardees shared similar stories giving back to their communities, while sharing their culture.

For Filipino-American Air Force Master Sgt. Jerry M. Dollente, an information systems manager with the 615th Air Mobility Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., coming to America was a terrifying experience.

"I came here in the fifth grade; I didn't speak a single word of English, I was petrified," he explained. "It was very scary -- it took a few months for me to blend in, assimilate, coming into a new environment with a different culture, but I was able to cope."

Although he has since learned everything he needs to know about being an American, he feels his mission now is to make sure fellow Americans understand his Filipino culture as well. He said that many Americans know very little about his country.

Dollente, a 19-year Air Force veteran, who was born in the Philippines, in Santa Maria Ilocos Sur, a small town north of Manila, is now president of the Travis Asian-Pacific Islanders committee, which numbers some 150 active members.

His group is directly involved with hosting ethnic observances each year, and Dollente has been personally involved with efforts to support the base's annual Asian-Pacific American Heritage month since 1989.

"America is a big melting pot, and everyone must learn to live together and get along," he said. "It is very important that other people know about our background, where we come from, our education and history."

Other outreach efforts by his group include helping to raise $7,000 for the Travis Fisher House and $500 more for his committee. "We did a lot of car washing and barbecues," he said.

Like his fellow Asian Americans, Dollente also shies away from spotlighted recognition. "As long as I do my job in supporting the community and Asian-Pacific heritage, to me that is a great enough feeling," he said. "But to be recognized at the federal level, this is beyond my wildest dreams and it's an even greater feeling."

Meanwhile, Korean-born Army Sgt. Maj. Yong K. Park, garrison sergeant major at Camp Red Cloud in Uijong Bu, South Korea, who also received an award, explained the importance of ethic observance to American society.

He said that "all humans must live with an open mind in order to truly understand the multicultural experience."

Parks, who is a Christian, says that he has committed himself to improving civil rights and race relations not only in the Korean community, but throughout the military as well.

"If I have a chance to influence the military in any way, even after I am out of this uniform, it is that we must work together to build a clean society," he said. "That is the message that I want to take to military leaders, not just at Camp Red Cloud, but to Washington."

Parks, born in Kwang-Ju City, South Korea, started his involvement with cultural diversity programs while stationed in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1998, where he coordinated a multicultural friendship day attended by more that 2,000 people.

This year he said he hosted the first Korean-American friendship day at Camp Red Cloud for more than 5,000.

On being recognized for his work to promote cultural diversity, he replied, "I am humbled, and I don't think I deserve this. Really, I just did as I was supposed to as a human being, but it is my honor. Maybe this will be my once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Other service members recognized during the ceremony were Navy Lt. Cmdr. Romuel B. Nafarrete; Navy Reserve Lt. Justin R. Hodges; Marine Corps 1st Lt. Philip J. Tadena; Air Force Reserve Tech. Sgt. Robert K. Suenaga, Air National Guard Maj. Gina-Altaire T. Alzate; and Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Cynthia Moneda.

The council is the oldest organization of Asian-Pacific Americans in the federal government. Its mission is to promote equal opportunity and cultural diversity within the federal government.

The conference featured job fairs, training workshops and seminars for Asian-Pacific Americans from government and civilian agencies. More than 1,000 people registered for the event.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Sgt. Maj. Yong K. Park, garrison sergeant major at Camp Red Cloud in Uijong Bu, South Korea, poses with his family after being honored during Asian-Pacific American Heritage month ceremonies in San Francisco May 19. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Spc. Hong Huynh of the California National Guard receives the meritorious service award from Federal Asian Pacific American Council president Krupakar B. Revanna during the DoD's Asian-Pacific American Heritage month ceremonies in San Francisco May 19. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample  
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