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NEWS | May 29, 2024

Thai American officer molds future Army leaders through AANHPI development network

By Walter T. Ham IV, 20th CBRNE Command

A U.S. Army lieutenant colonel has led the charge to connect and develop a new generation of military leaders in the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community.

Lt. Col. Seth T. Varayon has championed connecting and developing the U.S. Army’s AANHPI culture over the past few years.

Varayon currently serves as the information operations officer and future operations planner for the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command on Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

Soldiers and Army civilians from the 20th CBRNE Command deploy from 19 bases in 16 states to confront and defeat the world’s most dangerous hazards in support of joint, interagency and multinational operations.

A first-generation Thai American officer from McLean, Virginia, Varayon was commissioned as an infantry officer in May 2007.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, and his master’s degree in adult education and leadership from Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.

Varayon has served in staff and leadership positions from the platoon to division level in light infantry and combined arms formations. During three deployments to Afghanistan, Varayon earned three Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.

He has also served on a unit rotation to South Korea.

Varayon is the co-founder and chief administrator of the Asian and Pacific Islander Army Officers network, which consists of nearly 2,000 former, current and future commissioned and warrant officers across the U.S. Army, Army National Guard, Army Reserve and sister services.

“This group stresses inclusion, so there are officers from other services as well,” said Varayon. “Over time, we have realized that the benefits of this group are universal, and that the next evolution will focus on an expanded group of Total Army AANHPI – that means Soldiers, NCOs, warrant officers, commission officers, families, Army civilians and Soldiers for Life.”

Varayon recently moderated an FAPAC panel called the “SES pipeline” that included Dr. Michelle Zbylut, the Senior Advisor to the Secretary of the Army for Diversity and Inclusion; Young Bang, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology); and Hong Miller, the Chief Human Capital Officer at Army Futures Command.

He also spoke at the Pentagon’s Joint AANHPI Heritage Month Observance at the Pentagon Auditorium, May 15.

“Since I was a young lieutenant, I’ve always enjoyed the numerous Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Month events and observances in May,” said Varayon.

“Each year, the guest speaker or speakers were usually the highest ranking and notable AANHPIs on the post or in the surrounding area,” said Varayon. “Seeing and hearing these inspiring stories from these AANHPI leaders over the years lit a fire within me to one day pay it back to others following in our footsteps.”

Varayon won the 2022 FAPAC Uniformed Services Award in the Army Category because of his involvement with the Asian and Pacific Islander Army Officers network. He has volunteered to serve as the FAPAC Awards Committee chairperson for the past two years.

Varayon said the FAPAC Pentagon event theme of “Advancing Leaders through Innovation” applies to the important role that mentors and coaches have in molding the leaders who will guide the U.S. military and the nation it defends into the future.

“Innovation, resilience and a pioneering spirit are cornerstones of American leadership,” said Varayon. “AANHPI leaders have made lasting contributions to our nation’s economic prosperity, technological advancements and social and political change through their ingenuity and creativity while navigating significant cultural and systemic barriers.”

He offered some examples of how Soldiers can advance leaders through innovation.

“I can advance leaders through innovation by introducing a mentorship program if my organization does not have one,” said Varayon. “Mentoring and coaching aren’t innovative in the sense that they have never been done before but being deliberate about innovating some aspect of yourself or your organization to advance leaders can be just as effective.”

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