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David Chu: DoD's Highest-Ranking Asian American Civilian

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 15, 2002 – There were only a few Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders serving in the armed forces when Chinese American David S.C. Chu, 58, joined the Army Reserve in the 1960s.

That's changed over the years, and Chu these days, as the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, is in the best position to know. Sworn in as undersecretary on June 1, 2001, Chu is the defense secretary's senior policy adviser on recruitment, career development, and pay and benefits for 1.4 million active duty military personnel, 1.3 million National Guard and Reserve personnel and 680,000 DoD civilian employees.

Even with the large cutback in military personnel in recent years, he said, there were 6,636 officers, 330 warrant officers and 46,220 enlisted personnel of Asian Pacific ancestry serving in the armed forces as of March 2002.

"I'm delighted by the fact that it is no longer unusual to have Asians and Islanders in the ranks of the military," said Chu, DoD's highest-ranking civilian Asian American.

"One of the great things about the American military is the degree to which people are accepted for themselves and not seen as different," he said. "They're seen as Americans and expected to contribute on a merit basis to do what we do. That's the standard everyone should hope is set for him or her."

Consequently, Chu said, ethnic observances like Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May are "useful celebrations of the nation's diversity." The observance highlights the contributions and achievements of Asian Pacific Americans and "helps remind people of where we all came from, which is a lot of different places," he noted.

Focusing on a particular group is useful for young people in school, he said. "Otherwise, the schools might not take up these different histories or take a look at these different cultures," the undersecretary added.

This is Chu's second tenure at the Pentagon. From May 1981 to January 1993, he served as director and then assistant secretary of defense for program analysis and evaluation. In this position, he advised the secretary of defense on the future size and structure of the armed forces, their equipment and their preparation for crisis or conflict.

From 1978 to 1981, Chu served as the assistant director for National Security and International Affairs, Congressional Budget Office, where he advised Congress on the full range of national security and international economic issues.

A political appointee, Chu said, "As a youngster, I was always interested in politics. I had a very inspiring economics instructor in college, and I decided that's the subject I wanted to pursue."

He went on to earn a bachelor of arts degree, magna cum laude, in economics and mathematics from Yale University in 1964 and master's degrees in 1965 and 1967. Commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army through the Yale ROTC program in 1968, Chu served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 with the Office of the Comptroller, 1st Logistical Command headquarters. He was promoted to captain before ending his short military career, returning to Yale and earning his doctorate in economics in 1972.

Born in New York City on May 20, 1944, Chu said his father emigrated to the United States from China to attend the University of Illinois. His mother's side of the family settled along the East Coast before the Revolutionary War. His father worked for the China News Service during World War II and after the war went to work for the United Nations.

Chu's siblings, a brother and sister, were also born in New York City. His brother is chairman of the music department at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn. His sister is a human resources executive at Kent (Ohio) State University.

The father of two, Chu said his children are his hobby. "When they're teen-agers, especially if they don't drive yet, you are the chauffeur," said Chu, an avid gardener. "You're also expected to show up at each game, event, etc., but not be too much in the forefront."

Visit the DoD Asian Pacific Heritage Month 2002 Web site at

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Click photo for screen-resolution image"I'm delighted by the fact that it is no longer unusual to have Asians and Islanders in the ranks of the military," said David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. He's the highest- ranking civilian Asian American in DoD. Photo by Rudi Williams. (Click photo for screen-resolution image.)   
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