Indian American veterans of US military honored for their sacrifice by the Indo-American Veterans Organization

Ritu Jha-

Indian American veterans of the United States military were honored and their sacrifices were lauded recently by the Indo-American Veterans Organization (IAVO).

The event was held on November 11 at IAVO’s first-anniversary charity gala in Illinois.

The man at the heart of this mission is Chris “Veteran” Aryan, IAVO’s founder, chairman, and president, and a veteran of the US Army and US Air Force. He has now made it his life’s mission to recognize, support and honor Indian American veterans.

Aryan spoke to indica on IAVO and what goes behind making it his dream project, one that ensures Indian American veterans get their due and also inspire future generations.

“The idea of wearing a uniform, and representing the greatest military force on the planet, was too tempting,” he said. “I joined the service in 1983 straight out of high school.”

He said his parents’ first reaction to his decision was, “Why?” He said they wanted him to go to college, like most Indian American parents did then. “But growing up in the bad parts of Chicago, they already knew my personality. They thought this change might be good for me because of my trouble-making personality and hanging out with the bad crowd. They were hoping the military would help me discipline myself.”

After serving the US military, ‘Veteran’ as he is known, said, “The idea joining an organization like IAVO was floating in my head for more than 20 years. The question was, who will start it? Who wants the headache? I waited. Finally, during the Covid lockdown, I decided that if no one else would, I will.”

When Veteran began his military career, he said, there were hardly any Indian Americans serving. “I don’t know a single Indian-American person who joined the service 40 years ago. Sure, many Indian Americans are serving in the US armed forces now, but who were the pioneers? Who kicked the door down? Who dared to join the military when no one else did? So, I decided to take on the challenge myself.”

IAVO got registered on November 11, 2021 because it is Veterans Day. “I wanted to remind Indian Americans as well as non-Indians, that on Veterans Day, don’t just go around wishing Happy Veterans Day with pretty posters and flyers on Facebook, but remember and acknowledge that many Indians are also veterans of the US military.”

He said his long-term vision is to create a database of every Indian American who has ever served in the US military. “With that data, I wish to set up a small museum dedicated to Indian American veterans so that 50 or 100 years from now, any Indian kid (or any nationality), can enter the room and salute them for their service.”

The IAVO mission statement is therefore pretty unambiguous: “Dedicated to honoring, Indian-American Veterans, who have proudly served and sacrificed in the United States Military. You will never be forgotten.”

The first-anniversary gala was dedicated to Indian American veterans. The Indian National Anthem was followed by four flag bearers — soldiers of the US Army — entering the gala in a tight formation to officially commemorate the event.

They then sang the US National Anthem.

Aryan said the primary function of the Veterans Administration (VA), is to provide “countless services” to veterans. He added that the VA has a budget of billions of dollars and is funded by the federal government. “But, IAVO and the VA are separate entities and IAVO does not have billions of dollars in the budget because it is not funded by the federal government or Congress. The IAVO is a non-profit charitable organization.”

He added, “We operate with donations from the public and from our sponsors. We are limited in what we can do, and or provide, but the organization will honor, recognize, and acknowledge, only its member veterans. Like what countless other veterans’ organizations do.”

Guest of Honor Somnath Ghosh, the Indian Consul General in Chicago. congratulated Aryan for his vision and for establishing the IAVO. He stressed that this will further strengthen the India-US ties, “knowing that we have Indian-Americans who have and are currently serving in the US armed forces.” Ghosh assured that the Consul General’s Office will support the goals and causes of this organization.

Chief Guest of honor and keynote speaker Shalabh “Shalli” Kumar, a businessman and an outspoken Republican political activist, said that people should honor and respect those who have served in the US armed forces and fought for everyone’s right to have freedom of speech, religion, choice, and to live free and happy.

He recalled his early days in the US as a new immigrant and what it took to make his American dream come true.

Meanwhile, Harvest Moon Ball (Peter Minkov & Partner), North Shore Dance Society of Glencoe (Aleksander Bonev & Partner), and performers Paul Garbarz & Kristi Frank, captivated the audience with their presentations. Also included in the dance line-up were performances from a Hispanic Ethnic Cultural Dance group, as well as a couple of dance numbers by a classical Indian Kathak dancer and instructor.

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