Hawaii Air National Guardsman celebrates culture, AAPI Month
Story by Staff Sgt. Arielle Vasquez
May is Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, set aside to highlight those whose origins constitute this geographical area, and recognize all they have contributed to the U.S. There are more than 115,000 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders serve throughout the Department of Defense.
Staff Sgt. Nicholas Takara, Hawaii Air National Guardsman and deployed to the 386th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, is one of those U.S. military members who have contributed to a stronger and more unified force.
“Recognizing diversity in the military is extremely important because we are a diverse military,” he said. “It’s important to recognize the accomplishments and contributions of Asian American and Pacific islanders in the past who contributed to American growth.”
Takara has deep roots to Hawaii as his family members settled on the island almost 100 years ago. As a fourth-generation Hawaiian, Takara recalls his upbringing with fondness.
“My dad’s side of the family is Okinawan, while my mom is Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian and Mexican,” Takara said. “Being from such a diverse background, gave me insight into different cultures and traditions, especially growing up in Hawaii.”
Raised in a predominately-Chinese household, Takara’s mother passed down various traditions to him.
“Growing up, we celebrated Ching Ming, which is set aside to honor ancestors who have passed away,” he said. “We visited their graves and offered food to them during those times.” Also extremely popular in Hawaii, is the celebration of the Chinese New Year. My family and I would attend the parade in China Town every year. Looking back, it was always a part of my childhood and now my wife and I take our children so they can experience those traditions as well.”
After spending his formative years in Hawaii, Takara desired to take a path less familiar to him and his family members by joining the U.S. Marine Corps.
“For majority of my adolescence, I didn’t even realize joining the military was an option,” Takara said. “During my junior year of high school, I found out one of my friends was interested in joining the U.S. Marine Corps and I became interested in taking that path. In 2006, I ended up enlisting and spent almost ten years serving as a U.S. Marine.”
Takara started his career as a Marine Air Ground Task Force planning specialist before cross training to become a Korean linguist.
“At the time, there was a need for Korean linguists and I decided I wanted to pursue that career and go to the Defense Language Institute. After being in school for almost two years, I had follow on training in Texas, before being assigned a home station, which happened to be Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. I was happy with that as I had the opportunity to go back home and be close to family and friends again.”
In 2016, Takara took a different direction when he ended up separating from the Marines and joined the Hawaii Air National Guard later that year.
“Coming from the Marines, the Air Force was intriguing to me – I wanted to learn more and join the ranks. I ultimately got the job I wanted, which was security forces.”
With his deployment to Ali Al Salem being his first Air Force deployment, Takara said each experience he has had here would stay with him when he returns home. During his deployment, Takara utilized his language skills to introduce a Korean Cultural Awareness and Language forum to other Airmen.
“The purpose of holding the Korean forums was to have conversations with native speakers and those who had an interest in learning more about the language and culture,” he said. “We have topics of the day, which range from traditions to clothing to current events.”
Tech. Sgt. Elizabeth Aguilar, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Equal Opportunity, attended the forums to gain a better understanding of other cultures.
“The Korean forum opened up opportunities to educate others on Asian culture, common misconceptions and cultural traditions,” she said. “Most importantly, it was an opportunity to open doors for others to share and join regardless of ethnicity, race or cultural background. It is important to recognize and remember all Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders so their history remains intact.”
With his background as a linguist in the Marine Corps and having hosted the Korean forum during his deployment, Takara would like to take his Air Force career a step further by serving as a linguist again.
“Reflecting on my military career up to this point, I am fortunate to have had the experiences and served with extremely dedicated people in both branches,” Takara said. “Being able to contribute in the capacity I have means a lot and I want to continue to serve and strive to make an impact.”