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How Do You Lead?

How Do You Lead?

By Steven Boyd Saum

Photography by Cameron Davidson View full image
Major General Garrett S. Yee ’87 heads up modernization of the global IT network for the U.S. Army. His advice to young officers—and tales of when his grandmothers were stripped of their citizenship.

Now based at the Pentagon, he has been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait—traveling extensively in Asia, from Qatar to Kazakhstan. He was back on campus in June as guest of honor at the commissioning ceremony of new officers in the Bronco Battalion.

What advice do you give young officers?

One, be a gracious person. Be thoughtful. You don’t have to be the person who answers every question. It’s OK to listen a bit, to be humble. Your job is to be out there taking charge, but how do you combine that with humility? The last one is just to smile, enjoy life. These young officers have their whole lives ahead of them. We have no idea where they’re going, and they have no idea where they’re going—but they have an amazing foundation here.

Your family history reveals a complicated relationship with America.

I didn’t find out until about three years ago that both of my grandmothers lost their U.S. citizenship when they got married. I grew up in Fremont. My mom is Japanese, my dad Chinese. I grew up knowing that my Chinese grandmother— who I lived with for a period of time during college—lost her U.S. citizenship when she married my grandfather, who was born in China. My grandmother and my great-grandmother were both born in the United States—and yet the second generation later, you marry someone and you lose your citizenship.

In the 1940s they repealed the Asian Exclusion Act of the 1800s. And in the 1950s my grandmother went back to school. Not high school—she had about a second-grade education. But she studied and she took the test to become a U.S. citizen once again. That was very important for her.

On my mom’s side, something similar: My grandmother was born in the United States and she married someone from Japan. They were both arranged marriages. She lost her U.S. citizenship. In the 1940s, during the war, my mom and her family were all interned at a relocation camp in Gila, Arizona: Get rid of all your stuff, get a few boxes, and go to the desert. My aunt was born in the internment camp. My great-uncle served in the 442nd; your family’s interned in a camp, yet family members were serving our country. He earned the Purple Heart. All those 442nd guys all have multiple combat injuries because they just kept going back and back and back. When I got promoted to brigadier general, for my mom it was so remarkable: Here she was, in her lifetime, in an internment camp— and then her son is promoted to general officer in the Army.

READ MORE: Our full interview with Garrett S. Yee ’87

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