How a Marine’s Hawaiian Heritage Shapes His Service and Leadership

By Lance Cpl. Macie Ross

Nestled between the Hawaiian cities of Haleiwa and Mokuleia on Oahu’s North Shore is the small island community of Waialua. Waialua, a former sugar mill town, is a laidback plantation town and hometown of I Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group’s personnel officer Chief Warrant Officer 4 Ikaika Chaves.

The Hawaiian culture has been passed down and taught to Ikaika from a very young age. Ikaika, which means strong in Hawaiian, was given to him to keep the tradition of Hawaiian names throughout his family.

Much more than breathtaking sunsets, world-class surfing and beautiful beaches, Hawaiian culture influences everything from religion and language to food and fashion.

“Hawaiian culture is very family-oriented. Throughout all Asian-Pacific Islander cultures, family is a very important aspect and shared throughout,” said Ikaika. “We are taught early on that family is important and bloodline does not necessarily define family. Once you are in the family, you are in for life. We support those around us. There is nothing better than a BBQ with family at the beach on a Sunday.”

Ikaika enlisted into the United States Marine Corps at 17 years old.

“I grew up in a very poor sugar mill town,” said Ikaika. “The Marine Corps afforded me the quick escape I needed.”

The Marine Corps and Hawaiian culture have several similar qualities, including their emphasis on family and taking care of their own.

“His background and personal experiences have allowed him to climb up the enlisted and warrant officer ranks because he has been able to connect with his Marines and build administrative competence and readiness in the commands he has served in,” said Lt. Col. Mabel B. Annunziata, the executive officer of I MIG.

U.S. Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer 4 Ikaika Chaves, a personnel officer with I Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group, credits his Hawaiian heritage for preparing him for the Marine Corps and his leadership position. | Photo credit DVIDS/Lance Cpl. Macie Ross

According to Ikaika, he feels a great sense of pride in being able to represent his heritage within the Marine Corps.

“Being from a small island culture allows me to remain humble and tends to help with interacting, communicating and mentoring Marines from various types of backgrounds,” said Ikaika. “It allows me to be a part of something much different than what is portrayed in the mainstream.”

Ikaika believes that his culture has influenced how he leads his Marines because he always remembers where he came from.

“No matter the rank on my collar, my Marines have always felt comfortable coming to me with questions and problems,” said Ikaika.

In a celebration of long-honored traditions and culture, May is designated as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The month allows the Marine Corps to celebrate the diversity within its ranks.

“Diversity is critical in the military services; it allows us to assess and solve problems through multiple lenses,” said Mabel. “It allows us to better understand the American public that we protect and the viewpoints of our partners and Allies to build stronger relationships.”

According to Mabel, diversity in the Corps enables Marines to tackle adversaries from multiple perspectives – to deter them more effectively, to prevent conflict, or adapt in the battlefield when necessary.

“CWO4 Chaves provides that value to our command.” said Mabel.

Ikaika believes it is important for every culture to be acknowledged and recognized.

“Every culture brings their own background, experiences and history to the table and those attributes are priceless to the different problems we face,” said Ikaika. “Take time this month and enjoy a BBQ at the beach with those close to you.”

How the USO Supports Military Families

Just like Ikaika and the Marine Corps, the USO continues to keep in mind the importance of family throughout everything we do.

Military family members serve in their own way – especially when stationed overseas or off the U.S. mainland, far from home and loved ones. Military spouses often sacrifice their own careers and ambitions to follow their service member wherever their military journey takes them. Military children have to remain adaptable and resilient, while always attending news and schools and adjusting to new social networks.

Photo credit USO Photo

A military family welcomes home their service member.

To make these military families feel appreciated and that their sacrifice doesn’t go unnoticed, USO Hawaii, just like many USO centers worldwide, gears special programming toward these families to remind them that they have a supportive network to lean on during a time when they are separated from friends, family and the everyday lifestyle they are used to.

MilSpouses can lean on USO Coffee Connections to form connections with each other

USO Coffee Connections offers military spouses a way of connecting with one another over a cup of coffee, usually while participating in an arts and crafts activity. USO Coffee Connections provides a way for military spouses to engage with each other in a relaxing environment, where they can offer advice, make friends and expand their network in their local community.

Photo credit USO Photo

Military spouses in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, bonded and made new friends in a somewhat challenging duty station through a USO Coffee Connections event.

Having a network of people who share similar lifestyles with one another can aid military spouses in not feeling alone amidst the constant changes that come with being a part of the military community.

With the help of the USO Reading Program military children can stay connected to their loved ones

The USO Reading Program is a way of keeping military families connected, no matter where they are in the world. In recognizing the challenges that military children often face when dealing with separation, the USO Reading Program was created as a two-way street – their service member can use a nearby USO location to record themselves reading a story for their child and have both the recording and book sent home to them.

Photo credit USO Photo

Army Capt. Justin Meredith used the USO Reading Program to read to his son and family while deployed in the Middle East.

On the other end, children can select a book of their choice to add to their own library and record themselves reading, and then have the USO send the recording to the child’s service member, ensuring that they remain connected and can share a bedtime story, no matter how many miles apart they are.

Military families have a “home away from home” at USO Centers

USO Centers were built not just for service members, but also with military spouses and children in mind. Military families can turn to USO centers in Hawaii which are outfitted with snacks, books and family-focused programs that both military spouses and children can enjoy, and will keep them connected to their local community and a sense of home.

Photo credit USO Photo

At USO Centers, military kids can find comfort in spending time with other children who understand the unique challenges they face in the military.

The USO remains committed to serving members of the military community throughout every part of their journey. No matter where their service journey takes them, the USO will always provide a supportive community and a piece of home for military families stationed around the world.

-This story was originally published on It has been edited and expanded for

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