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Heritage through song & dance

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Service members and civilians hosted an Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month observance celebrating the history, heritage and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to the U.S. military on Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, May 23.

The event featured performances highlighting songs and dances from Samoa, the Philippines, Laos and Thailand that have significance in these cultures. 

Sgt. Jessica Munivong, technical support desk noncommissioned officer, and Staff Sgt. Hilda Burt, career counselor, both of Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade, performed a traditional Laotian dance for the event.

“If we depart from our homeland and flee far away from her/ we will always have you as our true friend/ as long as we live.” This line from the song “Oh!, Duang Champa,” also known as “The Plumeria Flower,” signifies the importance of heritage and home for soldiers from Laos and Thailand.

         “The plumeria is the national flower of Laos and the song is about the love and remembrance of Laos,” said Munivong. “Oh! Duang Champa’ is to Laotians and Thai what ‘America the Beautiful’ is to Americans.”

Starting off the event was the first of four dances by a group of Samoan soldiers and civilians. The dancers were high in energy, with whooping and vocalizing from the performers making the dances all the livelier. They sang about their culture in their native tongue.

“The music itself, it’s everything about Samoa, everything about how we live,” said Staff Sgt. Bingham Leiataua, the noncommissioned officer in charge of supply for the Joint Network Operations Security Center — Afghanistan, United States Forces- Afghanistan. “A lot of it is from the way we live, prepare meals, take care of our families, the environment and the beauty of Samoa that is captured in [all of the songs].”


All of the performers were able to teach the people who attended the event a bit about their heritages.

“I think it’s important for all of our Soldiers here, it’s cultural awareness,” said Sgt. Florence Tuetasi, a movement sergeant with the 304th Movement Control Team, 165th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Inf. Div. RSSB. “For us, being Samoan and being from a tiny place in the middle of the ocean on the other side of the world, it means a lot that we can share a piece of us all the way out here.”

No matter what part of the world these soldiers are stationed, they carry their heritage with them. The observance month brought their cultures to the forefront and was a celebration of their personal histories and the history of their fellow brothers- and sisters-in-arms.


“My heritage molds me and forms me as a person because it represents who I am, there are not a lot of Thai in the Army and we’re a very tight knit community. ,” said Burt. “It makes me proud of who I am and I try to represent that in everything that I do, and anyone that wants to know more about Thai culture and Thai food I try to bring that to them.”