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Defense Department Honors Asian Pacific American Servicemembers

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., June 1, 2007 – About 500 guests gathered to pay tribute to Asian Pacific American servicemembers here yesterday at the Defense Department’s 6th Annual Asian Pacific American Heritage Month luncheon and military awards ceremony.

David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, was the keynote speaker at the luncheon sponsored by the Defense Department and the Federal Asian Pacific American Council.

“It is widely agreed that today’s military is the finest force this nation has ever fielded, and that quality reflects the quality of our people,” Chu told the audience. “Diversity is part of that quality, and it has made us stronger -- diversity that is offered in good measure by the Asian Pacific community.”

The Asian Pacific community is a “tapestry” that comprises Americans with Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Indian, Pakistani, Native Hawaiian, Cambodian, Thai, Tibetan, Burmese, Laotian and ancestries from about 20 other nations, Chu said. Asian Pacific Americans now represent more than 4 percent of the U.S. population, he added.

Asian Pacific Americans played a vital role as the U.S. military personnel during World War II, Chu said. Japanese-Americans were denied entry into the military in 1943, he noted, but they later were admitted and became part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team that earned more than 18,000 individual decorations for valor during campaigns in Italy and France.

Asian Pacific Americans continue to contribute as military members, Chu said, and he paid a special tribute to former and current servicemembers from American Samoa – a small, unincorporated U.S. territory between New Zealand and Hawaii.

American Samoa has suffered the highest number of casualties in the war on terrorism, “more than any other American state or territory on a per capita basis,” Chu said.

American Samoa has a total population of less than 58,663. More than 200 American Samoans deployed to Iraq in 2005 and 2006, and 12 of them lost their lives, Chu said.

“This diverse group of Asian Pacific Americans has helped the nation build a military force capable of preserving our national liberty while serving as a role model for other freedom-seeking nations and people around the world,” he said. “And many have given their lives.”

Chu, the most senior Asian-American in the Defense Department, helped to hand out meritorious service awards to nine servicemembers, most of whom were recognized for their contributions to diversity and equal opportunity for Asian Pacific Americans in the federal workplace.

The theme for this year’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month observance -- “Pursuing excellence through leadership, diversity, and unity” -- is embodied by the award recipients from each service branch, Chu said.

Servicemembers recognized during the ceremony were:

-- Army Staff Sgt. Karim-Azar A. Grajo, who continuously promotes national and cultural heritages in the military and civilian communities in which he has lived and served for the past 18 years. Grajo’s selfless efforts in founding and organizing Asian Pacific American Association events have paid huge dividends in promoting cross-cultural awareness and fostering a positive living environment.

-- Army Reserve Lt. Col. Evelyn Langford, who has made significant contributions to helping pave the way for Asian Pacific Americans throughout her 24 years of military service. With the start of her career in the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry, the most highly decorated unit of World War II, Langford made history by becoming the first American Samoan woman to achieve the rank of lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army.

-- Navy Capt. Myles Esmele Jr., whose passion and enduring vision have helped create opportunities and promote diversity for Asian Pacific Americans within the armed forces and the federal civil service. His role as a leader and mentor in spreading cultural awareness truly stands out in both local and international communities.

-- Navy Reserve Cmdr. Thirumanaliyur Subramanian Shankar, who distinguished himself as a Sunni engagement officer for multinational forces in Baghdad, and who also supported operations Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom. In his role as a senior engagement officer in the Directorate of Strategic Effects, Office of National Reconciliation, he works on various confidence-building measures directed at insurgent groups, and he actively assists with implementation of the new Counterinsurgency Manual doctrine.

-- Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Stephane M. Castonguay, who distinguished himself as the noncommissioned officer in charge of a recruiting substation in Hawaii and as Pacific recruiter instructor for the 12th Marine Corps District. While in Hawaii, Castonguay led seven canvassing recruiters in assessing 135 applicants in the Far East. Toward the end of his tour as NCO in charge, he restructured and expanded Recruiting Substation Hawaii into two recruiting substations.

-- Air Force Maj. Leonard J. Kosinski, who distinguished himself as an operations officer with the 437th Airlift Wing, Charleston Air Force Base, S.C. He led a diverse group of more than 200 officers, enlisted personnel, and civilians through 11 major operational activities supporting the wing’s C-17A Globemaster III airlift mission. His leadership enabled 1,100 crewmembers to accomplish the missions of combat and humanitarian airlift and airdrop throughout the world.

-- Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Bernie H. Lagasca III, who distinguished himself as a paralegal in the California Army National Guard. He consistently provided positive representation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as well as other ethnic groups, both within and beyond the California Army National Guard. He demonstrated excellence in individual achievement and became a valuable asset to the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate by providing legal assistance to the office, as well as to countless soldiers who request legal assistance.

-- Air National Guard Maj. Anni Mu Loeb, who distinguished herself as executive officer for the director of the California Air National Guard’s Joint Staff and the 162nd Combat Communications Group. As a committee member for the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month ceremony, Loeb excelled in supporting initiatives that created a positive focus on cultural awareness to enhance the representation of Asian Americans in the California National Guard. She contributes her talents by mentoring servicemembers and individuals in the local community.

-- Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Krysia Pohl, who distinguished herself as a waterways management officer for the Coast Guard’s Delaware Bay sector. She is a positive role model for Asian Pacific Americans. Pohl volunteered to mentor a company of recruits at Training Center Cape May, N.J. She prepared discussion notes and activities for a group of more than 60 recruits on two separate visits at which she shared insights about her experience within and outside the service. As a result, the recruits invited her to be the keynote speaker for their graduation.

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David S.C. Chu

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