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Naval District Washington (NDW) joins the nation during May in recognizing Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, with the national theme of “I Am Beyond.”

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have served in the U.S. Navy since the early 19th century, and today make up more than six percent of the overall active duty force, along with more than 18,000 Navy civilians.

Japanese immigrants first came to the United States in May 1843, and the Transcontinental Railroad—largely built by Chinese laborers—was finished in May 1869, making the month particularly significant in recognizing the achievements of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders comprised of more than 50 ethnic groups speaking various languages.

The U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland recently held a banquet in honor of the heritage month, with special guest Dr. (Rear Adm.) Raquel C. Bono, director of the National Capital Region Medical Directorate of the Defense Health Agency and the 11th Chief of Navy Medical Corps.

In her speech, Bono addressed the importance of understanding the value and strengths of diversity and inclusion, as well as her background and lessons learned during her career.

Bono initially wanted to go into nursing but her father challenged her to become a doctor and showed her there were no boundaries on what she could do.

After being awarded a Navy Health Professions Scholarship, Bono earned her medical degree at Texas Tech University and began her military career with a general surgery residency at Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, VA. She was the first woman to graduate from this program.

“What I enjoyed about being in the Navy was that I always felt confident that my ability to advance was going to be based on my capabilities and performance. I felt that I had an equitable opportunity to succeed,” Bono said.

Bono’s family has a robust military background. Her grandfather was an obstetrician in the Philippines and served as a Colonel in the U.S. Army during World War II. Her brother, Rear Admiral Anatolio B. Cruz III, is the reserve deputy director of Maritime Operations at U.S. Fleet Forces Command. Her father is a retired Navy Reserve Captain.

“Service to others; service to country,” Bono said. “It was ingrained in us by our father and mother in gratitude to their adopted country, the United States.”

Citing her own life and leadership experiences, Bono strongly encourages students to apply for the Navy Health Professions Student Program as a way of entering the medical profession and wants them to have the same experiences.

Asian and Pacific American Heritage Week was first observed in May 1979, and then-President George Bush expanded the awareness campaign to the entire month in 1990. Congress officially decreed May as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in 1992.

To learn more about the contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to the Navy, visit

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