By Staff Sgt. Matthew Britton
U.S. Army Central
United States Army Central (USARCENT) hosted an annual Asian American Pacific Islander heritage observance May 15, 2019 at the command’s headquarters, Patton Hall on Shaw Air Force Base.
Since 1992, May has been designated to recognize the personal achievements and valuable contributions to the American story by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the transcontinental railroad completion on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks of that nation-unifying railway were Chinese immigrants. The rich heritage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders spans the world and the depths of America’s history.
Throughout the ceremony, the “Island Beauties”, a local group of Polynesian dancers, performed traditional dances from the islands of Hawaii, Tahiti and Tonga whose heritage represent the islands of Saipan, Guam, Hawaii, and Tonga. Members of USARCENT also prepared a “Taste of the Pacific and Asia” food sampling for attendees to enjoy and experience.
Guest speaker, Col. Roy Banzon, command inspector general for USARCENT, spoke about his upbringing and military service as a first generation Filipino American.
“My father, Jose Banzon, served 23 years in the U.S. Navy and earned the rank of Chief Petty Officer,” said Banzon. “He was my inspiration to serve in the military and he passed away in 2010. My father did not have enough funds to send me to college, so I studied hard like your typical Asian American and earned a fouryear Army Scholarship at The Citadel.”
Banzon commissioned as a U.S. Army officer in 1991 and is proud of the history left behind by other Asian American Soldiers who came before him.
“As an Asian American Soldier, I am proud to follow a legacy of amazing Asian American Soldiers who honored the Army history with many who made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Banzon “One unit in particular is the 442nd Infantry Regiment, which is known to be an almost all-Asian American Army unit. The unit was mostly made up of Japanese Americans, who fought honorably in WWII in the European theater. They fought for America even though many of their Families were forced to relocate in concentration camps in the western interior of the United States due to their Japanese ancestry. Based on these type of examples, to me, being an Asian American Soldier means selfless service.”
“My heritage as a first generation Filipino American is very important to me, since it is part of who I am as individual,” said Banzon “My heritage is what makes me different, but it also provides me the experience of a different culture which I am very proud to share with others, especially when I treat someone to a Filipino meal.”
Staff Sgt. Joellene Abadam, reserve affairs Non-Commissioned Officer for USARCENT, and one of the “Island Beauties” dancers, also recounted on her heritage and the importance of her culture.
“I am a Pacific Islander from the island of Saipan,” said Abadam. “I am a Chamorro. It means a great deal to me because it showcases my heritage, my culture, my lifestyle. It lets me understand myself and where I come from and to be proud of who I am where ever I may be. Although I am a U.S. Citizen by Naturalization, I still believe in the foundation that my parents have thought me. To be proud of where I come from and show the world that even as small indigenous people, we can overcome adversity.”
Abadam also highlighted this year’s Asian American Pacific Islander heritage theme, “Unite our mission by engaging each other”, by asking others to simply seek to understand a culture that isn’t their own.
“You have to learn the different cultures, the different ethnicities, the diverse community that we all live in,” said Abadam. “Ignorance plays a huge factor in our society, but it is never too late to learn something new. Sit with me and I can give you a story of the Marianas Islands. The beauty, the people, the food, the culture, our ways of life.”
“I have been a Soldier for 24 years in the Army,” said Abadam. “I am proud of who I am, where I come from, and will continue to do, and be, all that I can for my family.”
U.S. ARMY RESERVE
DEPT. OF DEFENSE
U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND
DEPT. OF HOMELAND SECURITY
BEST WARRIOR COMPETITION