YOKOSUKA, Japan (NNS) -- Sailors aboard the U.S. Navy's forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) celebrated the vibrant and diverse culture of Asian-Pacific Americans during a special ceremony May 9.
May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month and pays tribute to the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America's history and are instrumental in its future success.
"I personally have a lot of respect for our Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders that not only populate the crew, but the many that I've come to know during the years," said Capt. Greg Fenton, George Washington's commanding officer. "We recognize the number of people and folks we've touched and influenced in hopefully a positive way as we struggled in World War II to restore freedom across the Pacific Ocean."
Asian and Pacific Islanders have served in the U.S. Navy since the late 19th century when they were brought on board naval vessels to serve as stewards. In 1971, Asian and Pacific Islanders were given opportunities to pursue many other rates within the Navy.
"I appreciate that the Navy makes a concentrated effort to identify and look back at the history of how we got to where we are," said Senior Chief Navy Counselor Diana Galiza, from Honolulu, Hawaii. "A few years ago, I was not aware that we had an Admiral (Rear Adm. Peter A. Gumataoto) from Guam. The Navy produces quality mentors and leaders, which demonstrates that every culture can be successful."
Asian and Pacific-Islander Sailors performed traditional dances native to New Zealand and the Hawaiian Islands during the commemorative event, such as the hula and the Maori warrior dance.
"It is our culture and we want to let people and the younger generation of Sailors knows, hey, this is who we are," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Katrina Vong, from Seattle.
George Washington's Command Religious Ministries Department's (CRMD) Cultural Heritage Committee hosts a ceremony every year to encourage Sailors to learn about and appreciate all cultures and the contributions that have been made to the American way of life.
"It gives me pride to see many people from Polynesia succeed in the military," said Galiza. "I've mentored a lot of Polynesian Sailors who have sought me out. I help motivate them and encourage them to show the crew what we're about."
George Washington appoints a Cultural Heritage Committee each year that is selected from Sailors who volunteer for the program. Each committee represents a variety of ethnic backgrounds, genders and diverse interests.
"This is a team event and there are many people behind the scenes that make this happen," said Lt. Glen Kitzman, CRMD's divisional officer. "The heritage committee comes together once a month to plan these events and we come up with more creative ideas to see what we can do to make them more special and historical."
George Washington and its embarked air wing, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, provide a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interest of the U.S. and its allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
For more news from USS George Washington (CVN 73), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn73/.