Education opportunities, increased visibility lure new generation
14 July 2010
The all-volunteer U.S. army - like the United States itself - is an
ethnic mix. But Asian-Americans have typically volunteered less than
other ethnic groups. Recently, though, they have been enlisting at a
Asian-Americans make up just 10 percent of New York City's
population, but they comprise 14 percent of army recruits. The
numbers are even more striking in California cities. In the San
Francisco Bay area, 42 percent of recruits so far this year have been
Asian-American - way over their local population.
New reasons for signing up
At the Bay Area's Richmond Hilltop Mall recruiting station, army
officers teach incoming soldiers to march. The 15 recruits, still in
high school, will start basic training after they graduate. Seven of
them are Asian: Chinese, Vietnamese, Pacific-Islander and Filipino.
Recruits Albert and Barry Huang are 18-year-old twins who speak
Cantonese at home, and English outside the home. They tend to finish
each other's sentences.
"My parents always pushed the idea of 'go to college, go to
college,'" says Albert. "And so this is a start of how we're going to..."
Barry jumps in with "…do what our parents want us to do. We're just
going to go to college and get an education."
This is the twins' route to college. "Now that the economy has gone
down and the tuition's gone up - the army, they can pay for my
college, so might as well do it," says Barry.
Asian-American parents' traditional emphasis on education has run
into the stumbling U.S. economy and skyrocketing college costs. So
the military's education benefits have become particularly appealing.
That's one reason Asian-Americans are increasingly joining the army.
But that's not the whole story.
Facing new enemies
"In the present war, they're not fighting against Asians like in
World War II or Vietnam," says Ken Mochizuki, co-author of a book
about Asians in the military. He points out that U.S. soldiers,
before this generation, were fighting Asians - Japanese in World War
II, then Koreans and Vietnamese. Today's young soldiers, he says,
were born after those wars, and are less apprehensive about the military.
And, he adds, today's generation of American Southeast Asians, born
to parents who spent time in refugee camps before emigrating, "want
to prove their loyalty to this country and that they're as American
as anybody else."
Yet increased recruitment of Asian-Americans doesn't mean that more
are on the front lines.
According to Dr. Betty Maxfield, the army's chief of personnel data,
Asian-Americans are more commonly found in non-combat jobs then as
"The majority are in combat service support, technical support,
computer support, medical," says Maxfield, adding that soldiers who
focus on the military's education benefits train in jobs that
translate to civilian life - such as technology or medicine rather
than rifles or sharp shooting.
The Huang twins say that, for them, finding non-combat roles is also
a cultural and religious choice. Their mother is Buddhist.
"It affected me," Barry says. "When I decided to join the military, I
was like, 'I'm not going to kill anybody, I do not want to kill
anybody. I do not want to have a person's death on my conscience.'"
The rising visibility of Asian-Americans already in the service may
make a military career more acceptable to Asian-Americans.
Retired four-star general Eric Shinseki, a Japanese-American, now
heads the Department of Veterans Affairs. Antonio Taguba, a
Filipino-American major general, led the Abu Ghraib investigation.
The most potent reason that Asian-Americans are increasingly joining
the army may just be because they now see top-level officers who look