By Shirley Yumin Tan
Several months ago, I told my friend, Jesse Fu, that AsianInNY.com wants to do a collection of stories and personal anecdotes of soldiers who are or have served our country for the Afghan/Iraq war – in particular, interviews of Asian American soldiers. The topic is called “The Silent Voices of Asian American Warriors”.
As many of us may know, tens of thousands of young Americans join the military, and of those, thousands more are dispatched to Afghanistan and Iraq. Their oath calls for them to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic”. Honoring this unwavering principle, our soldiers march into countries unknown carrying with them, sometimes, only a sense of indelible pride and leadership learned from months and years of training. They risk their lives knowing they will face imminent danger and potentially return home physically and mentally crippled. Some have returned home with their bodies mangled due to street bombs and unforeseen attacks. These soldiers as well as their families have no other choice but to accept the harsh reality of war and the consequences of their sons and daughters’ loyalty and sacrifices to our nation. Clearly, US soldiers deserve greater care and attention from both our government and citizens alike. However, more importantly, further work needs to take place to shine the light on those Asian American soldiers who have given their lives for the glory and honor of our country. With this said, AsianInNY.com has dedicated their resources to help raise ‘conscious awareness’ to our community so that the voices of those Asian American soldiers and stories are heard.
Jesse Fu is a close friend as well as a warrior. He contracted with the National Guard in 2004 and was promoted to officer in 2006. Today, he is assigned to the mobilizing duty. While off the battlefield, he is a civilian working as a senior tax software developer for one of the Big Four firms. Jesse had no hesitation to accept our interview after he heard about this project with Asianinny.com. As a solider coming back from Afghanistan, he understands that it is not easy for many soldiers to mold back into their day-to-day activities after enduring the hardships of being on the battlefields. For him, returning to the States does have some adverse impact on his so call – ‘normal’ life. He agrees with us that our community should pay more attention and try to help as much as we can to give back.
Why did you want to join the military?
We met in a Starbucks in mid-town and started our interview with this simple question “Why do you want to join the military?” “Actually it is a really interesting and a long story.” Jesse said, “The reason my mom gave birth to me here in the U.S. is because they didn’t want me to join the Taiwanese army.” In Taiwan, citizens have been known to come to the United States in order to avoid the mandatory military draft in Taiwan after the students complete their high school education. The irony is that when Jesse was of age, he decided to join the U.S. army anyways. He said “I feel like I want it for myself and I want to go through it, like a complement. I am deployed over sea to Afghanistan after 9.11, by that time I already knew something was going to happen.” Jesse stopped a bit, thought for a while and kept saying,” Moreover, for me it is an adventure. I want to do something different, something I feel that matters. I feel proud that I contribute to something and it is going to be in the history. We are doing something that has influence on the U.S., even the whole world. We are there to promote freedom. We are there for the people.”
Do you feel any differences after you came back from Afghanistan?
“Actually I adjusted very fast, although some soldiers have problems to get back to normal life. At the beginning, I lose focus very easily because I wanted to focus on everything. I got used to do that when I was in Afghanistan. We became very suspicious and sensitive there. If we walked down the street, saw no kids there, and then we realized that there must be something wrong. When I first came back to the U.S., if I walked around, I would try to listen to the conversation across the street.”
In hearing this interesting anecdote from Jesse, I tried to tease him a bit by saying that he must know a lot of gossips because of this special skill. Jesse started to laugh, loudly and vibrantly.
Jesse continued, “Also, my memory was stuck in the past. Some of my former coworkers and new hired got promoted over me, but I was still in the same position as I was before. My emotion got hurt; however, after a while I adapted pretty fast.”
Do you have any regrets?
“No.” Jesse shook his head and firmly said, “I’m in it for a long run. I feel it is good for me. I mean it is the way I became mature. When I was in Afghanistan, I dealt with different people. I spoke a different language, talked to the Afghanistan officers. Sometimes I had to lead an older team, which would make me feel slightly nervous, but it was my duty and I needed to do my best. Everyone in the army has his/her role. This is how the military functions. All these kinds of trainings and experience are cherished and unique to me. Now, I feel like it is much easier to talk to different people, like clients, boss, and the staff under me. I know how to communicate better.” I looked at Jesse’s clam but yet confident face with a hint of shyness. It is hard for me to perceive this man sitting next to me as someone who was actually out on the battlefield with a mission only a couple months ago.
What is the hardest thing you have to face?
“My friend died over there in Afghanistan. We were training together for almost three months and we became friends after that. I felt really sad when I thought about him. Sometimes I cried when I drink a bit or when I chat with other soldiers. They just triggered my memory. When my grandmother passed away I was very sad as well, but I didn’t cry. I don’t know why I would have such a strong feeling with this friend.” Jesse looked down and stopped talking. I stopped asking and watched him quietly. I think maybe it is a unique feeling which is hard to describe and is only between soldiers. Yes, perhaps only soldiers like him can understand the true colors of their feelings. Jesse explains this in short.
My last question to Jesse was “Are your parents proud of you?” Jesse answered without a thought, “Yes, very proud! They always tell their friends about me and my story like most of the Asian parents do.” We both laughed. We ended our conversation with a big and warm hug.
If you want to read and know more about this “The Silent Voices of Asian American Warriors” series, please visit www.Blog.Asianinny.com.