The Fort Eustis Samoan community and NCO of the Year honoree SFC Susie S. Nuuvali-Apineru (on Aumua's left) , Iosefa Weggen and son Tauloa Weggen; SSG Christopher Fielding, Cristy Va'a Fielding; Christyann Fielding; Cyrus Fielding; SGT Lagi Custodio,husband SGT Jason Custodio and son Jacob Custodio; SGT & Mrs. Joe (Mieyann) Uilelea, SSG Susie N. Gaines, Senara Leapai and son Seiuli; Sia Leapai. [courtesy photo]

Ever since President George W. Bush appointed me to his White House Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in 2001, I have accepted invitations to speak at various military bases celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM).
This year I was particularly honored and proud to be in the company of SFC Susie S. Nu'uvali-Apineru of Aua, who has won the 2013 distinction of Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) of the Year for the 1st Battalion 210th Aviation Regiment. She also competed for and won the recognition as 2013 NCO of the Year for the 128th Aviation Brigade and was the only female who competed for 2013 NCO of the Year for the United States Army Aviation Center of Excellence against 19 male NCOs, finishing in second place. SFC Nu'uvali is currently an Instructor/Writer with the 128th Aviation Brigade on Aircraft Avionics Systems and has been selected to join the Aviation Logistics NCO Academy as a Senior Leader.
Joint Base Langley-Eustis (JBLE), which unites Fort Eustis with the adjacent Langley Air Force Base, combine installation support operations to serve Airmen, Soldiers, family members, military retirees and civilian employees. This large Joint Base is only the first stop of a four state swing I am making to visit nine military bases in the southeastern United States this month to thank our Toa o Samoa. Because every year also is National Military Appreciation Month, I had the double opportunity of celebrating our heritage and thanking our Samoans in the Armed Forces for their service to our country. JBLE is a beautiful 9000 acre base that is home to the U.S. Army Transportation Corps as well as the Nation's oldest continuously active Air Force Base.
Led by Major General Bradley W. May, the Senior Commander of JBLE and Deputy Commanding General of Initial Military Training Center of Excellence, who is responsible for standardizing, refining and assessing training for initial entry Soldiers, recently commissioned and appointed junior officers and warrant officers at 27 installations across the United States, host brigade commander Col. Dean D. Heitkamp, in his welcoming remarks at Wednesday's formal observance, said to the more than 300 military personnel assembled, "As mentioned in the Presidential Proclamation, today we take time out not only to recognize the challenges and struggles that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have faced with determination and optimism, but also to celebrate their rich culture and history.”
Col. Heitkamp recognized (Retired) General Eric Shinseki, our first Asian American four-star general and 34th Chief of Staff of the Army and LTG Thomas Bostick, the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and NCO of the Year SFC Nuuvali.
In my own remarks that followed, I said "As one who comes from a family with a strong military tradition dating back to the early 1900s in American Samoa, it is heartwarming to be able to celebrate with our military and civilian community at Joint Base Langley-Eustis and I was delighted to see my fellow Samoans in the audience, all of whom have families back home.”
It was good to be with SFC Susie S. Nuuvali-Apineru, Iosefa Weggen and their son Tauloa Weggen, SSG Christopher Fielding, Cristy Va'a Fielding; Christyann Fielding; Cyrus Fielding; SGT Lagi Custodio, her husband SGT Jason Custodio and their son Jacob Custodio; SGT and Mrs. Joe (Mieyann) Uilelea, SSG Susie N. Gaines, Senara Leapai and her son Seiuli; Sia Leapai. I cherish these occasions and am proud of those who serve in our Nation's military and help make it possible for us to continue to live the American Dream. I will relay their messages to their families when I return home.
A reception was held following the ceremony, which featured Kalua Pig and other tasty Asian Pacific cuisine provided by local restaurants. That evening, the base's Samoan community invited me for dinner at which I had the chance to bring them news from back home. A good time was had by all and the food absolutely delicious.
We started this journey in Washington on Tuesday after I had a couple of days to readjust from my trip in from Pago Pago. The drive on this first leg of the journey was about three hours but I will have traveled over 2,200 miles by the time we have finished. Today we leave for the short drive over to Naval Station Norfolk, where I will deliver tomorrow the APAH keynote address to the military and civilian community at the world's largest Naval station.


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