Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Spotlight with Col. Mia Walsh

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  • By SBD 3 Public Affairs
  • SBD 3

Q: How long have you served in/with the military?
Walsh: I commissioned into the Air Force in 1998 and transferred to the Space Force in 2020. My old boss, Gen. Wolters, administered my oath of office on Facetime, which was amazing.

Q: Do you have family members who served in the military?
Walsh: Numerous members of my family served in the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Two of my uncles were in the 442nd Infantry Regiment, composed almost entirely of second-generation American soldiers of Japanese ancestry. It is known for being the most decorated unit in military history.

Some of the soldiers came from Hawaii, but many came from the internment camps on the mainland. Their families continued to live in internment camps while they fought for the US in Europe. Internment in Hawaii was not considered practical since there were so many people of Japanese descent.

Q: Why is AAPI month important to you?
Walsh: Asian American and Pacific Islander month is important to honor the history and contributions of Americans who immigrated from Asia and the Pacific Islands and to celebrate our culture.

My grandfather came to Hawaii from Japan to work in the sugar cane fields. I loved growing up in Hawaii and seeing all of our different cultures come together in a melting pot.

Celebrating Japanese bon dance, Chinese New Year, the Merrie Monarch hula festival - celebrating and enjoying each other's cultures is what Hawaii is all about. And the food in Hawaii is amazing!

Q: What cultural customs or traditions do you/your family observe?
Walsh: One example of a cultural tradition we observe is "omiyage." It loosely translates to "souvenir" and is usually a gift of food that you bring back from a trip for friends and family.

Gift giving is extremely important in Japanese culture. We are also very cognizant of not giving gifts in sets of four because the Japanese word for four is similar to death. Tea sets or dish sets are given in sets of three or five. Four is very unlucky.

Q: Who are some of the people you've admired in the AAPI community?
Walsh: I remember seeing a bio of Maj. Gen. Susan Mashiko when I was a young Captain, it is a very powerful thing to see someone with a similar background to yourself! She was the first Japanese American woman to be promoted to flag rank.

I also have a lot of admiration for GEN Eric Shinseki, who is also from Hawaii and was the first Asian-American four-star general. Three of his uncles served in the 442nd and he was very motivated by their service to serve himself. Finally, Col. Ellison Onizuka was my childhood hero - he inspired my interest in space!