Why We Serve
The modern American Soldier has changed and evolved; as has war from the early days of our fledgling nation to our current days as a global superpower. However, the attribute of each man and woman who has donned the burden of a United States Military uniform has remained steadfast. Each Soldier, Sailor, Airman, and Marine, past and present, will attest to his or her undying love and patriotic duty for our country. This is not to say that every conflict our country has engaged in was justifiable. No; instead, it is that each uniformed member of the armed forces has served with a common purpose to defend and protect those that are unable to do so themselves. Our reasons for serving have never been for fame or glory; our reasons for serving have always been simple and uncomplicated.
Today, the total manpower of the United States Armed Forces amounts to about 2,264,511 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, in both the Active Duty and the Reserve component. Of that number, Asian Pacific Americans only represent 4%, numbering approximately 90,580. That may seem like an impressive number, however, the last military training I attended comprised of 200 soldiers from every corner of America. Of that, another Soldier and I were of Asian descent while a third member was half Chinese and the other half a mixture of European origin. The truth is that there is a proportional scarcity and absence of Asian Pacific American representation in the U.S. Military.
Now, close your eyes. Picture an American soldier charging up a hill to meet the enemy. The soldier is muddy and filthy from living in the field for the last month. His once clean khaki uniform is now torn and dirty. The sweat is pouring down his brow; he is unshaven for the last week. His face screams of fatigue and exhaustion, but you know, just from looking at him, he won’t quit. He will not allow the mission tasked to him to fail. Now, ask yourself, is that the face of an Asian Pacific American or some other ethnicity? I’ve asked many people this question, and most people will answer that they see a face of Caucasian or African American descent. Rarely have I heard someone answer that they see the face of an Asian Pacific American. I, too, must admit I have concurred with the majority opinion. I have always pictured that face based on what I see in the movies. As an Asian American who is currently serving in the United States Army, this bothers me, as it should to everyone.
My primary objective for enlisting in the Army was similar to many other Asian Americans who answered the call to serve. It was an opportunity to fulfill a duty and obligation that I owed to my country for the vast opportunities made available to my parents and me. As an American, it is easy to take for granted our Constitutional freedoms and liberties, which are not universally available around the world. I grew up (as many other Asian American children do) with a belief that I was to excel in academics, attend a top tier university, become a high paying professional and repeat this cycle with my children. Was this not the ultimate pursuit of the American Dream? What I have learned is that there are many ways to fulfill the American Dream. We are the only ones that can restrict our own futures. I hope future generations of Asian Americans will be able to understand that we ourselves are our own limiting factor.
Most families, no matter what ethnicity they belong to, will at first refuse any mention or discourage any inclination to join the military. Even more so, Asian families object to military involvement. Perhaps this is due to an ingrained traditional and cultural emphasis on higher education that would in turn lead to lucrative returns in future employment. Indeed, this was the case for all the Asian Americans that I have spoken to that serve. However, after basic training, every new recruit that finished the proscribed training has in some way transformed. Each Soldier, Sailor, Marine, and Airman is engrained with the core values of loyalty to your country and to others, duty to maintain integrity to do what is always right, to complete your mission and obligation to yourself and others, and to uphold your own personal honor through selfless service, sacrifices and personal courage. Military families have learned that military training, more so than not, improves their son or daughter to become a better citizen and person.
Speaking to fellow Asian Pacific American service members, I realize that despite the fact that our upbringing is very different from the military majority, our reasons for voluntarily joining the U.S. Military are the same. It centers on our self-imposed obligation to serve and defend what is dear to our hearts. During family gatherings, every post-college Asian Pacific American is asked, “So what are you doing now that you are done with college? Where are you working? Are you planning to attend graduate school?” Before this year (I’m in my first year of Law School), I have always answered with, “I serve in the United States Army.” The response I normally receive is, “Oh…” followed by a moment of silence. The next question is either, “So what do you plan to do after that?” or “How could you do that to your parents?” at which point, they would look to my parents for some form of agreement or approval of the question just posed to me. My parents, like many other military families, understand that serving in the Army is no longer something that can be questioned and justified. It is part of my life. My reply has always been, “I serve to preserve your freedom and my own. I serve for reasons of duty and honor to my country. I serve with the belief that if I don’t do so and others like myself decide to stop, our nation’s freedoms and all that we hold dear will be threatened.”
While our intentions may seem to most as naïve, not every moment of life in the Military is so idealistic. As a minority in the U.S. Military, I have always been the subject of racial jokes, slurs and remarks. This may be difficult to understand for most, but in the military, no one is safe from jest. Every servicemember, regardless of their race, religion, or creed, will endure some form of ridicule. The military does not endorse or approve such behavior, but in the military, this form of behavior serves a dual purpose. First, every service member must be mentally and physically resilient. Understandably, a service member is expected and trained to enter a combat zone, endure a firefight, and potentially lose a comrade. This is the reality of the profession. Secondly, it creates a sense of camaraderie. Before I entered the military, I had never endured so many racial remarks. However, I have learned through the trials and tribulations that come with life in the military that the same people who appear to racially ridicule me are the same soldiers I have and would trust my life with.
The point of this article is multifaceted. It is to share and educate those who know nothing about the military just how large a role Asian Pacific Americans have played in the modern U.S. Military. This article serves to help inform why Asian Pacific American service members serve. This article serves to encourage Asian Pacific American youth to pursue their aspirations and dreams, to never allow anyone or any stereotype to prevent them from pursuing their ambition. In raising awareness of Asian Pacific Americans in the U.S. Military, I ask that you recognize, appreciate and value the sacrifices rendered by those who have served, are serving and looking to serve.
I was sitting around a table the other day with friends arguing and debating the political justifications of current affairs. One was a liberal Democrat, one was a conservative Republican, one sided with the views of the Tea-party and another was completely neutral in political scrutiny. All four were practicing their Constitutional right to voice their personal grievances and political positions. George Orwell wrote in his 1945 Notes on Nationalism, “We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” Service members have no political agenda; we do not support one political party over the other. Instead, we protect the American’s right to be able to sit at a table and debate arguments, to push for reform, to fight injustice, to pursue their dream, to make new discoveries. We protect the right to sleep safe at night.