Ex-USACE commander, Army personnel deputy chief shares multicultural experiences, challenges

By Dianne Ryder

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Defense Logistics Agency Energy Chief of Staff Army Col. Doug Henry hosted the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month observance May 17, joined by McNamara Headquarters Complex tenant organization leaders, including DLA Chief of Staff Kristin French. But the real star was guest speaker, retired Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, who related stories with humor, candor and charisma.

Bostick serves as chief operating officer at Intrexon, a biotechnology company. Most of Bostick’s anecdotes were from his long military career, including as the commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and as the Army deputy chief of staff for personnel and readiness.

The retired general said his dual heritage as an African American and as an Asian American means he’s often mistaken for other races and has sometimes struggled with how to identify himself.

“My dad came in the Army before [President Harry] Truman’s desegregation, so he was in an all-black unit,” Bostick said. “He married a Japanese woman right after World War II, so it was like a double whammy!”

“I’m very proud of both sides of my heritage,” he said. “ I recognize both cultures.”

Bostick said he was privileged to meet some members of the Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a large contingent of Japanese American soldiers who fought during World War II and became the most decorated unit in U.S. military history.

“Many of them were Nisei … the second generation of Japanese Americans.” Bostick said. He explained there was a lot of suspicion directed toward the 14,000 Nisei, who had to endure many investigations “to make sure they were really on our side.”

“They earned seven presidential unit citations to have one is huge — [and] 21 Medals of Honor, [totaling] 9,846 awards in one unit,” Bostick said. “Think about that.”

President Truman personally awarded one of the presidential citations.

“Generally, the Japanese are a very humble group of people,” Bostick said. “It’s just amazing that … we as a country were recognizing folks who, in the past, weren’t treated so well.”

Bostick noted the late Senator Daniel Inouye was a member of 442nd RCT and earned the Medal of Honor as a lieutenant. Inouye was the highest-ranking Asian-American politician in U.S. history.

“If you get a chance and you can go back and read a little more on the ’44-deuce,’ you’d be very impressed,” Bostick said. “I’ve just given you a snippet of what they were about.”

Throughout his career, Bostick said he’s had the pleasure of working with many diverse groups of people and has benefited from working with all branches of service.

“We think we’re in competition with each other, but we’re really all brothers and sisters,” he said.

Bostick relayed personal stories about overcoming prejudice and how he felt about injustices directed toward others. He used the example of how the U.S. Military Academy at West Point didn’t accept women cadets before 1976.

“Most of us older guys regret that we didn’t do this a century ago,” he said. “We lost so much talent by not opening up that opportunity.”

Another challenge Bostick faced was his part in repealing the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, marking the first time gay and lesbian service members could serve openly. He faced a lot of opposition and said he was tempted to leave the Army over the contentiousness. But when he addressed a group of Navy SEALs and asked if sexual orientation was a factor in performance, they admitted it was not.

“That’s the message I’d like to leave with you. We like to celebrate our history and our cultures, but at the end of the day, it’s all about performance for each one of us,” Bostick said. “If you perform well, the cream always rises to the top, and your leaders will recognize it.”