WASHINGTON — Coinciding with Veterans Day this month, a group of retired United States Army officers launched a nonprofit organization to support career development for the Army’s many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
The Pan Pacific American Leaders and Mentors Organization is backed by retired General Eric Shinseki, who was also Army chief of staff, and was developed over the past year and a half by several high-ranking former officers.
“The idea for PPALM was born in March 2006 when a group of retired Army officers spoke about doing something for fellow Army officers who are Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders,” said retired Major General Antonio Taguba, who is also involved in the group. Prior to his retirement in January 2007, Taguba was the second-highest ranking Filipino American officer in the U.S. Army.
“We have a group of Army officers and volunteers who are truly concerned about the representation of Asian American Pacific Islander officers at the current rate,” Taguba said. “We were determined to create an avenue to help the Army sustain its growth.”
According to Taguba, AAPIs represent approximately 4.5 percent of the active Army officer population. However, at the lieutenant colonel and colonel levels, representation drops to roughly 1.9 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively. Part of the concerns that spurred the formation of PPALM was the possibility that a glass ceiling had taken shape within the Army’s ranks, inhibiting the normal career progression of its rising AAPI officers.
“The selection rates for promotions, key leadership positions and education opportunities at the lieutenant colonel and colonel levels were 3 percent lower among AAPI officers as compared to the other ethnic groups,” Taguba said. “The data is anecdotal in nature, but we have organized PPALM to help the Army deal with solutions to these issues, while also helping with the mentoring, education and retention of AAPI Army officers.”
Cedric Jasmin, an Army Reserve officer who works as a civilian in the Army G-4, said officers of AAPI heritage seek only “a fair shot to be evaluated based on [their] merits.”
The organization’s three goals are service to nation, responding to the call of duty and assisting the Army’s “Army Strong” recruitment program. While the focus is on Army officers, Taguba also explained that PPALM is open to soldiers and civilians of all backgrounds, both active and retired.
“Membership can take on many forms,” said Mike Yaguchi, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and member of the group, adding that the organization aims to help officers make career decisions and network with other officers.
The group was inaugurated on Nov. 11 as part of a ceremony hosted by the Japanese American Veterans Association at the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism in Washington, D.C.