This April is the perfect time to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Arab Americans, who bring a fascinating and diverse culture to American life. It’s also an excellent time to celebrate Arab Americans who have put their lives on the line in the U.S. armed forces to protect their fellow Americans.

The history of National Arab American Heritage Month

The first National Arab American Heritage Month took place in April 2017 as part of an initiative by the Arab American Foundation and Arab America. It initially received some support by a few states, but in 2022 the Biden administration formally recognized the month.

Virginia, Oregon and Illinois were the first states to pass legislation designating April as National Arab American Heritage Month. There is similar pending legislation in Rhode Island, Ohio, New York, Michigan, Maryland and Indiana.

"The appearance of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement."“The appearance of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.”

The three surges of Arab immigration

The first known Arab Americans were Estebanico Azemmouri and Antonio Bishallany, who came to America in 1527. Azemmouri was from Morocco and Bishallany from Lebanon. However, the first boom of Arab immigration occurred in the late 1800s when Arab Christians sought refuge from persecution and violence in the former Ottoman Empire.

The second included Middle Eastern immigrants fleeing the Arab-Israeli War. After the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 ended the systematic process of favoring northern and western European immigrants, a third surge occurred.

U.S. Navy Petty Officer Michael A. Monsoor is the first Arab American to earn the Medal of Honor

The U.S. armed forces have a history of notable Arab Americans serving their country, but the first to obtain a Medal of Honor was U.S. Navy Petty Officer Michael A. Monsoor, who chose to give his life so his allies could be saved.

Monsoor earned this honor during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006. During a sub operation designated Kentucky Jumper, Monsoor served as an automatic weapons gunner as part of a sniper overwatch element atop a building in Ar Ramadi, Iraq. Their mission was to protect the western flank of the main force.

Monsoor and his team spotted four enemy scouts and engaged them. One of the enemy fighters was killed and another wounded. A separate SEAL and Iraqi Army team took down one more enemy combatant. However, this alerted the local populace to their location.

Monsoor’s position was attacked in the early afternoon the next day. Automatic fire from enemy vehicles and a rocket-propelled grenade sieged them, but they remained in the area to protect the flank, knowing fully well that the attacks would not stop. Monsoor, with an automatic heavy machine gun, was repositioned to a sniper hide-sight between two SEAL snipers. While watching for enemy activity, he felt something bounce off his chest and land on the deck nearby. Knowing it was a grenade, he shot to his feet, warned the two snipers next to him of the threat, and then threw himself onto the explosive to protect his teammates from harm.

Monsoor was killed in action, but he succeeded in saving his allies. He was positioned in such a way that he could have escaped the blast and saved himself if he chose to. Instead, he leapt on the grenade without hesitation. This action earned him the Medal of Honor.

This April, take part in National Arab American Heritage Month

National Arab American Heritage Month is a time to celebrate Arab culture and honor Arab American soldiers like Monsoor. The Arab culture is diverse and valuable to the U.S., and many Arab Americans serve in the U.S. armed forces. Take this opportunity to recognize what Arab culture brings to America and the sacrifices heroes like Monsoor have made to protect the American way of life.