Members of the 317th Recruiting Squadron led the military portion of a diversity summit aimed at recognizing the contributions of South Asian Americans at the White House on July 29-31.
The summit focused on energizing national service through goodwill and selflessness to the community, and was titled "Impacting Change in America and Abroad." The event marked the first time South Asian American military heritage was honored by the White House.
"We are proud to have servicemembers attend and share their innovative perspective on how we can build stronger communities across America," said Joshua Dubois, Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and conference host.
Lt. Col. Ravi Chaudhary, 317th RCS commander, introduced the story of South Asian service in the Department of Defense in his speech to conference attendees. He highlighted the importance of South Asian communities "Joining Forces" with the military community to unify support in times of crisis.
"This event was about inspiring American communities toward national service and building a closer relationship between military families and the broader American public," Chaudhary said. "What better way to inspire our youth than to showcase the heroic contributions of our brave servicemembers and their families. The White House was a fitting place to honor them."
Chaudhary also told the inspiring story of one of the first South Asian Airmen in U.S. history -- Sabu Dastagir, who was a famous actor and friend to such Hollywood names as Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Stewart. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1944, and served a tail gunner in WWII and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his valor in the Pacific. Chaudhary related Dastagir's story to how current South Asian American servicemembers are using their Eastern heritage and cultural perspective in our current wars to build people-to-people relationships and stability in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Diversity is what makes our Nation strong, and in times of crisis, American servicemembers have always led the way," Chaudhary said. "This event was an opportunity for key leaders in government, industry, academia and faith-based communities to innovate key solutions to challenges facing the Nation."
"I was humbled to have the Total Force represented there. It was an amazing opportunity to tell their stories of heraldry," he said.
A major portion of his presentation focused on awareness of the challenges military families face.
"Every time a servicemember gets that phone call -- calling for mom or dad to deploy, the whole family is affected. They display amazing resiliency, but over time the deployments take their toll," Chaudhary said. "Their [servicemember] families bear long separations and the reality that their loved one will not be above the danger. Yet, they still carry on with a smile. Communities need to understand this, and reach out to them."
Jason Dempsey from the Office of the First Lady, spoke at the event in order to connect organizations to Michelle Obama's initiative called "Joining Forces" -- a Nationwide effort designed to raise awareness for support of military families.
The conference focused on a variety of other challenges facing the Nation in various panel discussions.
Capt. Allison Suter, 317th RCS flight commander, served as the squadron's lead coordinator for the event and continued discussions throughout the day with the broad spectrum of attendees.
"This was an opportunity to adopt a 'Whole of Nation' approach to innovation," Suter said. "We had many key leaders in government, industry, academia, and faith-based communities in the same room discussing key challenges facing our Nation. It's a powerful statement to have so many organizations joining forces to develop innovative solutions that move our Nation forward."
Breakout sessions discussed green solutions, homeland security, health and wellness, and refugee support.
The event continued at Georgetown University July 30, where Mrs. Uma Chaudhary, an Autism Specialist in the Virginia School System, discussed the challenges facing military families and the need to support special needs children. She also focused on developing innovative ways American youth can connect to military families.
Several senior White House officials, Cabinet members, and members of Congress attended the events.
The 317th RCS directs and operates the recruiting activities of seven enlisted accession flights and one line officer accession flight with approximately 86 active-duty and 10 civilian personnel. The 317th RCS is located in Oxon Hill, Md., and covers a 43,000 square-mile area that includes Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.
For more information on the First Lady's Joining Forces initiative, visit the official website at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/joiningforces