NORFOLK (NNS) -- Commander, Operational Test and Evaluation Force (COMOPTEVFOR) celebrated Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month with a historical presentation, potluck luncheon and cake cutting ceremony, May 14.
Rear Adm. Pete Gumataotao, commander, Naval Surface Force Atlantic, and a native of Guam, gave remarks.
AAPI Heritage Month recognizes the challenges faced by Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Hawaiians, and their vital contributions to the American story.
"As we celebrate our heritage, we pay tribute to the hardships and barriers overcome by each generation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders," said Yeoman Seaman Edgarangelo Antonio, the master of ceremony for the event. "While we remember our rich tapestry of culture through events like [AAPI Heritage Month], let us not forget that while we are a diverse nation, we are also a united one."
During the presentation, Antonio gave examples of historical Navy AAPIs, and their contributions to the Navy as well as America in general.
Following Antonio's presentation, Rear Adm. Gumataotao gave his remarks, in which he talked about growing up in Guam, the influence his mother had on him, and the importance of diversity in the military.
"My mother was a huge inspiration to me," said Gumataotao. "During [World War Two], she grew up on the island of Guam, and as a teenager, she was taken captive by the Japanese forces. She was a prisoner of war for nearly three years until the Americans came and liberated the island. But she never spoke ill of the Japanese people. She had no hatred towards them or anyone else. She instilled in me and taught me how to be kind and considerate, and to never have hatred towards anyone of a different race, sex, religion, or nationality."
Gumataotao went on the say that the values he learned from his mother, still carry on in him today.
"Even though countries and people haven't always seen eye to eye, like the Japanese and Americans, it's important to learn from our mistakes and to embrace the differences of people," said Gumataotao. "Because that's where the Navy draws its strength from: the diversity of its Sailors."
However, Gumataotao added that the event isn't about him, or even his heritage. His message was directed towards everyone in the audience.
"We're not here just to celebrate being an [AAPI]... we're here to celebrate our differences," said Gumataotao. "Every one of you, from my perspective, has unique qualities and strengths that I always look for in a leader."
Gumataotao stated that he considers Antonio a leader because as one of the lowest ranking at COMOPTEVFOR, he had the courage to give a presentation in front of all his peers, as well as higher ranking officers and enlisted personnel. Gumataotao said that Antonio "did all his homework and put together a remarkable presentation. It's Sailors like [Antonio] that will shape the Navy into being an even better organization than it already is."
Following the ceremony was a potluck luncheon and social hour, in which Gumataotao, Antonio, and Rear Adm. Jeffrey Penfield, commander of COMOPTEVFOR, cut the ceremonial cake.
"Overall we had a great celebration," said Antonio. "As an Asian American and Sailor, I'm proud to serve in the U.S. Navy, and I hope I serve my country with distinction like those before me did."
For more information on COMOPTEVFOR, visit www.navy.mil/local/COTF.
For more news from Commander, Operational Test and Evaluation Force, visit www.navy.mil/local/COTF/.