DoD

May 25, 2012

Inclusion helps Asians, Islanders hand high-level jobs

Tags:
by Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

Roger M. Natsuhara is the principal deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment and deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for installations and facilities.

WASHINGTON, D.C., — As a senior Navy official, Roger Natsuhara says, part of his role is to support Asian-American and Pacific Islanders who want to enter senior government service.

President Barack Obama proclaimed May as Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. This year’s theme is “Striving for Excellence in Leadership, Diversity and Inclusion.”

Natsuhara, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment and deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for installations and facilities, said avoiding inclusion in U.S. culture is a barrier for members of the Asian community.

“Sometimes, we as Asians forget we have to include ourselves on the other side,” he said. “It’s very important to be proud of your heritage, but you also have to include yourself in the culture.”

Natsuhara has known about exclusion since he was a boy. His parents and grandparents were in internment camps for U.S. residents of Japanese descent during World War II. When released, his father took a job with Southern Pacific Railroad where he lived with his mother and brother in the only housing available, a railroad boxcar. His father went on to become one of two Asian railroad executives in the nation.

The internment camps his family stayed in, were a taboo subject among Japanese-Americans while he was growing up in Stockton, Calif., Natsuhara said. “Our parents didn’t want us to speak Japanese just after World War II, because being Japanese was not a cool thing to be.”

Natsuhara served a 25-year career in the Navy, retiring as a captain, and his wife is a retired Navy lieutenant commander.
Navy culture, he said, was quite different from his Japanese-American heritage.

“I think you have to be able to straddle both cultures,” he said. “Sometimes it’s too easy to say, ‘I’m not being included, rather than, ‘How do I include myself in that group?’” He said including himself in gatherings of fellow service members helped him feel he was part of the U.S. military community while overseas and away from family and friends.

Natsuhara said he tells other Asian-Americans that it is important to take challenges and professional risks outside their comfort zone.

“Once you reach the professional world in your first job, you can work hard, but still not get that promotion,” he said. “There’s a certain amount of relationship and trust you have to build.”

Natsuhara is no stranger to taking risks and applying for jobs cold, without networks or contacts. He was a career Senior Executive Service employee when he filed a resume for the White House appointment to his current Navy position, he said, and got it without knowing anyone in the administration. The same was true for his previous SES job at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

His appointment with the Navy is both a dream job and a challenge he never expected, Natsuhara said. He recently worked with Defense and State department officials and their Japanese counterparts to develop the new Pacific posture for the U.S. Marine Corps.

“It was a very meaningful and big initiative,” he said, adding that the multibillion dollar program will span many years once it clears Congress. “It was an amazing thing to be a part of. That’s something I could never have imagined when I was growing up.”
Now, he encourages other Asian-Americans to challenge themselves and reach for high-level positions with the government and to never give up.

“If you want to be an SES, you might try more than 20 times,” he said, “but you might get it the 26th time.”
While Asian-Americans might fear some prejudice, Natsuhara said he was never confronted with discrimination during his career, except for a few minor incidents he remembers with a laugh.

While on active duty, he was often mistaken for a Japanese naval officer. In addition, once while shopping in a Navy Exchange, dressed in civilian clothes, he said, a security guard told him and his wife the exchange was only for “authorized patrons.”
“We said, ‘Yes, we knew that,’ and showed him our identification,” Natsuhara said. “He thought we were Japanese tourists who were lost.”

Even today, Natsuhara said, he is sometimes assumed to be a staffer when he’s in his own office or seated at the head of his conference table.

“I recognize that I’m fairly unique and there haven’t been many Asians in these positions, so a lot of people assume I’m just part of the staff,” he said, recalling several times when visiting officials mistakenly briefed a staff member instead of him. There was an instance when a local elected official approached Natsuhara’s captain instead. “She began to brief him, and he told her, ‘You really need to brief Mr. Natsuhara, because he’s my boss,’” he said, laughing.

“I tell people it just takes time,” he said. “It’s educating folks and getting people used to others, whether female, African-American, Hispanic-American or Asian-American.”

Natsuhara said he tells junior Asian officers that the military is one of the nation’s fairest organizations. “It’s on merit,” he said. “The system works very well if you work hard and do the right things. The military looks at how you do your job.”

His chain of command always treated him like everyone else, Natsuhara said. “I was fortunate to have very fair, open-minded leaders and mentors in the Navy.” Still, he added, being Asian-American had its challenges.

“Asians haven’t gotten to the point where we don’t get a second look,” he said. “It takes time and I don’t see that as a negative. I do think more Asians need to take advantage of the military, because it’s a great opportunity.”




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Tiffany Lindemann

Team March maintainers refurbish KC-135 Stratotanker in record time

U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Tiffany Lindemann Staff Sgt. Caleb Meyer, an active-duty crew chief, and Staff Sgt. Neftali Rivera, an Air Reserve Technician and crew chief, both from the 752nd Maintenance Squadron, screw in th...
 
 
U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Russell S. McMillan

Johnson assumes command of 56th Aerial Port Squadron

U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Russell S. McMillan Col. Timothy McCoy (left), commander, 452nd Mission Support Group, March Air Reserve Base, passes the guidon to Maj. Mark E. Johnson, commander, 56th Aerial Port Squadron, ...
 
 
U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Ryan Crane

Airman, Guardsman recognized as ‘heroes’ in Paris

U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Ryan Crane Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone (right), Aleksander Skarlatos (center) and Anthony Sadler pose for a photo in Paris Aug. 23, 2015, following a foiled attack on a French train. Stone was...
 

 
150822-F-RK887-146

Chief Kacsmaryk Retirement

U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Russell S. McMillan Chief Master Sgt. Michael Kacsmaryk, superintendent, 752nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, March Air Reserve Base, receives a U.S. flag that was flown over the Capitol, duri...
 
 

The 452nd Air Mobility Wing 2015, 3rd Quarter award winners

Airman of the Quarter – Senior Airman Christian Bojorquez, 452 SFS   NCO of the Quarter – Staff Sgt. Kevin Duffy, 56 APS   SNCO of the Quarter – Senior Master Sgt. Winston Demmin, 452 AMXS   Company Grade Officer of the Quarter – Capt. Dawn Schultz, 452 MDG/752 MDS   (Not pictured) Civilians of...
 
 

Healthy Base Initiative ends, Team March continues concept

The Defense Department’s Healthy Base Initiative is about to end, but the emphasis on health and wellness is merely making a transition. The Healthy Base Initiative, a DOD demonstration project at 14 installations that tested ways to improve the health and wellness of troops, civilians and their families, is ending this month. However, the successful ideas that...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>