Interview and photo illustration by Deborah Heldt Cordone, AUXPA1

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. This year's theme, selected by the Federal Asian Pacific American Council, is "Advancing Leaders Through Opportunity," which builds on a leadership advancement theme.

As we celebrate this month, we remember that the Coast Guard Auxiliary is stronger together with a diverse and inclusive workforce, with all members valued for their skills and contributions.

Today, we spotlight Jihwan Baek, an Auxiliarist since 2008. Serving out of 054-22-01 (Flotilla Curtis Bay), she currently holds the positions of
International Affairs Outreach, Branch Chief-INDOPACOM and Public Affairs Photo Corps, Branch Assistant-Archivist. She is certified as an Auxiliary Interpreter and has earned the advanced AUXOP award.

What does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month mean to you?

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month resonates deeply within my being, carrying profound significance. It stands as an exuberant tribute, casting a radiant light upon the extraordinary contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in shaping our society. This momentous month ignites an unyielding fire within me, a fire that reminds me of the power of my unique identity, one that is not merely acknowledged, but fervently celebrated. It infuses me with an indomitable sense of empowerment, a firm pride in being Asian American. With joy in my heart, I offer my skills and services through my lens, eager to be an integral part of organizations that fervently raise awareness. Together, we kindle the flames of change, illuminating the path towards a brighter future, where diversity is embraced, celebrated, and woven into the very fabric of our collective existence.

Who is your inspiration?

My inspiration is not confined to a single individual; rather, it arises from the collective tapestry of people I've encountered throughout my life. Each person, whether they brought goodness or challenges, has left an indelible mark on my spirit. Yet, it is through my volunteer career that I have found extraordinary inspiration. The camaraderie of fellow shipmates and the unwavering dedication of those with profound spirits of service have truly awakened my passion. Witnessing their selflessness and deep commitment to making a difference gratifies me with hope and belief in the innate goodness of humanity. I encourage each reader to embrace the power within to inspire others because it can create a ripple of inspiration that shapes a better world.

What does it mean to you to be in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary?

Being an Auxiliarist means much more than volunteering—it signifies a steadfast commitment to serving my country in a unique and impactful way. My journey commenced 15 years ago, driven by a deep longing for meaningful influence. Little did I know that it would guide me to the pinnacle of my career as a Branch Chief within the International Affairs Directorate, where I discovered my true passion and purpose.

In my role, I embrace daily growth and challenges that transcend limits, enabling personal and professional development. By willingly devoting my time, being part of this remarkable team enriches me beyond measure.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with fellow Auxiliarists, entrusted with demanding responsibilities, is a humbling honor. It is also a testament to the profound meaning of dedication and service, molding our characters and purposes. Through my journey in the Auxiliary, I have learned that genuine fulfillment arises from what we give and gain—the wisdom, growth, and great sense of purpose accompanying our extraordinary expeditions.