May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a national observance that honors the perseverance and legacy of Asian and Pacific Americans and celebrates their contributions to the nation.
For Col. Abraham Suhr, a second generation Korean American, a block of American cheese generates memories of a connection between his family and the U.S. Army.
“My father and my father-in-law were both 10 years old during the Korean War,” said Suhr. “My father’s father was captured and never seen or heard from again. My father’s six other brothers and sisters survived by their mother’s devoted tenacity and with the help of the American GIs. My father has a deep appreciation for the sacrifice it took for each American Soldier to leave their family to come to Korea to defend people they didn’t even know.”
“My father-in-law always likes to have American cheese in his refrigerator,” added Suhr. “When I asked him one day why, he said as a young boy that he and his family did not have basic necessities such as food. He remembers an American military member giving him something. Opening up the mystery, it was a block of American cheese. He still remembers the creaminess. I am reminded of the long-lasting power of a simple act of service.”
Both Suhr’s father and father-in-law immigrated to the United States when they were young adults.
“They came to study, make a life for themselves, build a future and a family,” added Suhr.
Suhr grew up in San Luis Obispo, California, and commissioned into the Army in 1997. He received a letter of acceptance to attend medical school at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. In order to attend, he needed to join the military.
“Joining the Army or even the military was not on my radar during all my planning and preparation for medical school,” he said. “However, when I interviewed at the Uniformed Services University, I fell in love with the community and all the opportunities within the military and military medicine. Current medical students were enthusiastic about attending USU and would not stop talking about all the unique opportunities and tremendous support given to medical students.”
Suhr said that at the time, he wasn’t entirely sure what kind of doctor he wanted to be, but he eventually chose ophthalmology.
“Eyesight is extremely valuable to people,” said Suhr. “We make a quick and noticeable improvement in someone’s life with the right diagnosis and management. It’s rewarding professionally and personally.”
Suhr currently serves as the Deputy Commander for Surgical Services at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
That position supports LRMC’s mission to enable readiness of the Joint Domain Warfighter as they receive care through LRMC’s surgical clinics and operating rooms.
“Joining the military has provided me an opportunity to be exposed to many people with diverse backgrounds and experiences,” said Suhr. “It has given me the opportunity to travel and see various parts of the United States and the world. While in the military, I accomplished my professional goals and have taken care of the most appreciative patients in the world. I value all my opportunities and experiences of being part of the military.”
Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month stands as a reminder of the strength the Army has gained and will gain, through a high-quality diverse all-volunteer force.
“I have gained multicultural experiences through various military assignments and being a physician to a large number of people from different ethnicities,” said Suhr. “I’ve learned lessons which boils down to the importance of having respect for others, regardless of the ethnicities or other perceived differences.”
Suhr often reflects on his father and father-in-law’s experience with the military and how it has shaped his Army career.
“What we do, or do not do, can have a tremendous and long-lasting impact on individuals and even generations,” said Suhr. “Think about the GI giving the block of cheese. We may be oblivious to the significance of what we did and unaware of the extent of the impact. However, maybe it is good enough to know of the potential so that it motivates us to always serve well.”
With more than two decades of service, Suhr can now reflect on his time in the Army and offer advice to young Soldiers just starting their career.
“Seek to build relationships with all sorts of people, especially with those you would not normally befriend,” said Suhr. “Remain humble and ask yourself what you can learn from someone else, regardless of the person’s rank or other traits. The military definitely gives people opportunities; it is up to you to take them.”
To learn more about Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, visit https://www.army.mil/asianpacificamericans/.