My mother came to this country from the Philippines over 40 years ago chasing the American dream. She graduated from University of the Philippines Diliman — and when the opportunity to come to the United States presented itself, she jumped at it. Because she knew — like so many — that if she was willing to work hard, the sky’s the limit in the United States of America.

It is that reverence for this special country that my mother instilled in my sister and me. She reminded us that we were lucky — not smart — lucky to have been born here, and she also instilled in us that we had to give back to a country that had given us so much. It is why I proudly served both in uniform and as a civil servant, and it is why I am proud to serve again, this time as the 27th under secretary of the Air Force.

Every day, I have the pleasure of entering the halls of the Pentagon to ensure our Air Force and Space Force have what they need to protect our American way of life. I believe the core of our nation’s strength comes from, and ultimately through, our people. I am personally convinced that we must have a force that is as diverse as the challenges and opportunities that we face as a country.

As someone who identifies as LGBTQ+ and who served in uniform under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy while deployed during combat operations in Iraq, I know firsthand how discriminatory policies affect our readiness. Fortunately, “don’t ask, don’t tell” is behind us. But much work remains as we strive to ensure everyone can serve to their full potential — regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.

Thankfully, we have a commander in chief that understands that diversity and inclusion are imperatives to ensuring our national security. Since his first day in office, President Joe Biden made clear that racial equity, diversity and inclusion are key priorities for this administration.

Celebrating Filipino American History Month allows us to reflect on the rich contributions of Filipino Americans throughout our country’s history, including the contributions made to strengthen our national security. Like so many Filipino Americans, my uncle joined the U.S. Navy from the Philippines through the steward program. At the time, Filipinos could serve in the U.S. Navy, but their career opportunities were extremely limited. Once those restrictions were removed, my uncle went on to serve as an electrical engineer. His experience, as well as my own, demonstrates what is possible when we remove barriers that prevent our men and women from serving to their full potential.

Currently, there are just more than 7,000 airmen and Guardians serving who were born in the Philippines and just more than 18,000 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders serving within our Air and Space Forces. I am proud to count myself among the 13% of all U.S. military veterans that are foreign-born or first-generation Americans. It is an exciting time to lead efforts squarely aimed at removing barriers affecting the quality of service for our service members and civilians. We will not ignore or hide from these challenges but face them head-on. As we continue to confront the many difficult challenges our nation faces, having a diverse set of courageous leaders is critical to matching the myriad set of challenges in front of us.

As we recognize Filipino American History Month, I am humbled and proud to represent the Filipino American community as a member of the Biden-Harris Administration. As history tells us, it takes courageous leadership, hard-earned trust, and a ceaseless commitment to create inclusive environments where our men and women can serve to their full potential.

For America to succeed in an increasingly competitive world, we need the unhindered contributions and talent of those courageous enough to serve. I am honored to continue the proud legacy of Filipino American service to our nation. As we say in the Department of the Air Force — One Team, One Fight!

Air Force Under Secretary Gina Ortiz Jones is the second highest-ranking Filipino American serving in the Biden-Harris administration, and the first woman of color to serve as an undersecretary of any military department.

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