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Home : Media : Speeches / Testimony
NEWS | May 8, 2017

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Video-teleconference to CIA Headquarters

By ADM Harry B. Harris, Jr. U.S. Pacific Command

Adm. Harry Harris
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Video-teleconference to CIA Headquarters
Washington, D.C.

May 8, 2017
As Prepared for Delivery

It’s an honor to speak to you in observance of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. I’m sorry my schedule changed and I couldn’t be there in person, but this topic is especially important to me and I hope that I can give you all something to think about.

Over the years I’ve visited the Beltway more times than I can count. One thing I learned is that long-winded speakers in D.C. are as common as traffic jams -- both are to be avoided at all costs. Come to think of it, this video-teleconference format is one way to avoid traffic! And you can always turn the volume down.

Although it’s probably a bit awkward to hear a speech this way, I’ll try to make some comments that might lead to a good question and answer period afterwards. I’ll start by discussing my own personal story, briefly talk about the current operating environment in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, and I’ll finish with a message on how vitally important it is to have a diverse workforce.

I spent much of my childhood growing up on a tiny farm in Crossville, Tennessee. But my roots are in the Pacific. My mother was Japanese. I was born in Japan, and I've spent almost half my career in the Pacific.

My father and my four uncles fought in World War Two -- enlisted men in the Navy and in the Army. In fact, my dad served aboard the USS Lexington, which was lost 75 years ago this week during the Battle of the Coral Sea. Fortunately for me, he survived.

My dad’s sea stories formed some of my earliest memories and inspired me to serve. But, it was my mother who taught me the true meaning of service.

While my father fought in World War II, my mother and her family experienced the cruelties of war in Japan. She was from Kobe. She lost her home, her school, some of her family members, and friends in air raids. After surviving the destruction that war brought to Imperial Japan -- as well as the post-war depravations of the late '40s -- she met and then married an American Sailor, my father.

Once settled in America, she adapted with grace and became an American citizen in 1974. Her proudest moments were voting and serving on jury duty!

I learned much from my mother. She taught me to be proud of my heritage and she taught me the twin concepts of giri and gimu -- obligation and duty.

These concepts have served me well throughout my career in the Pacific. The 21st century is often called the Pacific century, and America is surely a Pacific nation, a Pacific power, and a Pacific leader. Today the world is interconnected and interdependent in ways that were unimaginable at the end of World War II. But we're also facing complex security challenges and threats.

I believe the Indo-Asia-Pacific is inextricably linked to America's future prosperity and security. Our opportunities in this vibrant region are abundant, but the path is burdened by four considerable challenges: North Korea, China, Russia, and ISIS.

We can't turn a blind eye to these challenges. And we can't give any nation or insidious non-state actor a pass if they purposefully erode the rules-based security order. And we won’t.

Whether you’re in the CIA, or in the Department of Defense, I think we all agree that building partnerships is a big part of our jobs. To continue along the prosperous and peaceful path that has served the Indo-Asia-Pacific so well for over seven decades, we must and will continue to expand partnerships among like-minded nations to uphold the rules-based global operating system that arose after World War II.

Now that I’ve talked a little about myself and my area of responsibility, I’ll focus on an important message regarding workforce diversity.

‘Diversity’ has become a buzzword that means many things to many people. I’d like you to think about what idea popped into your mind when I said diversity. Was it a tangible thing, like race or age or gender? Was it a philosophy? Was it a political agenda?

‘The condition of being different.’ That’s the dictionary meaning of diversity. It’s an irony, I suppose, that the military -- known for establishing a culture of uniformity -- is the same military that embraces our differences and leads in the American struggle for diversity.

How can these two ideas go hand-in-hand? Well, I submit that our military and the intelligence community understand that to be the best, we must draw from all conceivable options.

As a young Midshipman at the Naval Academy, many years ago, I barely got through engineering…but even I know that the best of an entire population is better than the best of a smaller sample of that population. For example, if we only had 100 quotas for U.S. military pilots this year and we picked them from only the west coast, ignoring all the qualified candidates in the rest of the United States, our future flying force would be less than it could or should be. This is more than simply a desire that we want to mirror the society we're sworn to protect -- though there's goodness in that.

America’s military is a team where men and women from all walks of life proudly take the lead, bringing their different skills and talents to bear every day to create an environment of excellence.

But it hasn't always been that way. Go back in history to just as recently as 2011 when ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell’ was repealed -- and as far back as the signing of our Constitution, and you can see the expansion of opportunities over the centuries to include those who didn't own property, weren't white, or male, or Christian.

As President Theodore Roosevelt once wrote, ‘Wide differences of opinion in matters of religious, political, and social belief must exist if conscience and intellect alike are not to be stunted.’

I believe that embracing diversity is vital to both our present and our future. We cannot achieve healthy growth without it. One former Chief of Naval Operations rightly said that as leaders, we must not be locked in time -- we must anticipate and embrace the demographic changes of tomorrow to build an organization that always reflects our country’s make up.

Right now on active duty across our Armed Forces, minorities represent about 30 percent of the enlisted workforce, 22 percent of the officer corps and 10 percent of our General and Flag officers. Within the officer ranks, 85 percent are male and only 15 percent female…
78 percent are white, 9 percent are African American, 6 percent are Hispanic, and 5 percent are Asian Pacific American.

And I know studies at the CIA have shown similar results…with racial and ethnic minority officers making up around 24 percent of the entire CIA workforce, but accounting for only approximately 11 percent of the Senior Intelligence Service, 15 percent of GS-15s, and 21 percent of
GS-14s. Diversity is critical to the mission of any complex organization and the CIA is no different.

Though these numbers make it clear that we have work to do, they also show me just how far we’ve come in the span of my 39-year career. We want to welcome every agency member and military member into a family they will proudly call their own for the rest of their lives -- a family that exists like no other in America.

When I arrived at the Academy in 1974 as a Midshipman of Japanese American descent, I wasn’t sure what to expect or what kind of greeting I would receive.

Fortunately for me, others had already blazed a trail in Annapolis. One of those was class of ’59 graduate Vice Admiral Robert Kihune, who when he retired in 1994, was the highest ranking Asian American officer in Navy history.

Before Kihune went to the Academy, he thought he would encounter problems because he was half-Japanese and half-Hawaiian. But as he said once, and I quote, ‘when I arrived, the commanders and Midshipmen didn’t care what race I was. They saw me as another member of the greatest Navy in the world.’

I suspect the same is true at all the service academies today. I know it’s true when people see our military in action around the world. When one of our amphibious ships pulls in to a foreign port, or our fighter aircraft fly over foreign soil, not only do people see the power of America, they also see capable service women and men who are a reflection of our great nation.

That said, it’s worth pointing out that the Academy was an all-male institution back when Midshipman Kihune arrived -- as it was when I started back in 1974. Thankfully, we moved forward and began admitting women into the Academy starting in 1976. Admiral Michelle Howard, Class of 1982, is the Navy’s 4-Star Commander in Europe. Fast forward to the Naval Academy class of 2020 -- 326 of the 1,177 midshipmen are women, about 28 percent.

The United States military and the intelligence community have been, and still are, making great strides to create a strong, culturally diverse workforce. Not an end in itself, but as a means to the end state of a more capable force that protects America from the many adversaries who would do us harm.

Our professionals come from cities, towns, and farms, from every economic walk of life and every corner of our nation and, indeed, the world, with different faiths, sexual orientation, and backgrounds. And yet we all share a common goal – to serve our country, to protect American interests around the globe, to defend our very way of life.

Former Naval officer and President John F. Kennedy, once said, ‘If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.’ That’s a powerful statement. Diversity is America’s great strength.

Diversity is not just another word for equal opportunity, though that’s important. Diversity is about the power of choosing the best from the entire population -- and not selecting the top of a sub-group. It's about new and different ideas that spring naturally from the attributes our people bring with them from their various walks of life.

The U.S. military, the CIA, and all of our government agencies require bright, dynamic and diverse people to solve tomorrow’s problems. Developing critical thinkers has always been one of the great success stories of the our military, which has a rich tradition of producing exceptional officers with Asian Pacific heritage -- a fact I'm reminded of at my Hawaii headquarters when I see the destroyer USS Chung-Hoon docked in Pearl Harbor.

Gordon Chung-Hoon, a Hawaiian-born American of Chinese heritage, was the first officer of Asian Pacific descent to command a Navy warship, USS Sigsbee. In 1945, when a kamikaze suicide plane caused explosions and flooding on board his destroyer, Chung-Hoon’s leadership enabled the crew to save the ship. Awarded the Navy Cross for his actions, he was later promoted to rear admiral, the first officer of Asian Pacific heritage to make Flag rank.

We should also consider Chito Isonaga. She went to school in Japan for six years but lived on Kauai when the war began. The Women's Army Corps, or WAC, wouldn't take Nisei women until late in the war. Ms. Isonaga volunteered as soon as she had the opportunity. She knew Japan would lose the war, and she wanted to use her language skills to help her family and friends in Hiroshima. Her service, both as one of the first WACs into Japan after the war and a 30-year career with the CIA following that, is testament to her personal impact.

And consider George Ariyoshi. He was the first American of Asian descent to be elected as a state governor. Ariyoshi was born in Hawaii to Japanese immigrant parents and served as an interpreter with the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Service in Japan at the end of World War II.

There are countless stories of courage and perseverance to tell -- so many Americans have sacrificed much for our great nation. It’s their selflessness that counts, not their distinguishing features.

For me to be a Japanese-American 4-star admiral in command of about 375,000 people across half the globe, well, it's because of these and so many more Asian Pacific American trailblazers.

Americans of Asian Pacific descent hold no monopoly on dreams and aspirations. We simply want to be successful on our merits and not held back by our genetics.

Let me be frank here. Our nation has not always dealt minorities a fair shake. That said, the many cultures resident in the American immigrant experience share a common underpinning of honor, pride, and perseverance that has added immeasurably to our strength as a nation.

I’m thrilled to be talking to you, as an Asian Pacific American, celebrating our heritage with all Americans in this new age, where diversity is embraced by a larger percentage of our society than ever before.

Now this is the part of the speech where I usually call the audience to action. Imagine that, calling such a hardworking group of our nation’s finest intelligence officers to action – you’re busy enough without another action item.

Even so, I’m challenging each and every one of you to do your part in continuing to move our nation forward in the right direction. That right direction is valuing each individual on the basis of their contributions. This becomes easy if we focus on what we all have in common – a love for our country.

Thank you for inviting me to share this occasion. Even more importantly, thanks for the outstanding, and often unrecognized, work that you do for our nation every single day. I want you to know how much I personally appreciate what you do to protect our country and to support our military operations. So on behalf of all the men and women of U.S. Pacific Command, please know that you have our deepest respect and appreciation. Thank you very much.


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