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"It's taken so long to be a first": Woman first Asian American to lead NJ National Guard

Decorated Army surgeon is first ever female Asian American in military history
Decorated Army surgeon is first ever female Asian American in military history 02:15

LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J. (CBS) -- As we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we're introducing you to a decorated Army surgeon who made military history.

Lisa Hou is the first Asian American and the first woman to lead the New Jersey Army National Guard.

On the desk of Brigadier General Lisa Hou is a cutout of her grandfather, a doctor and two-star general with the Chinese Nationalist Army. 

He inspired her to join the military. 

She's now the first Asian and first woman to serve as Adjutant General for the New Jersey Army National Guard.

"I'm not happy it's taken so long to be a first. It took to 2020 for that to happen, though I'm humbled and grateful for the opportunity to be the first," Brigadier General of the New Jersey Army National Guard Lisa J. Hou says.

Hou is also the first Asian and first woman to serve as Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. 

The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Hou grew up in Monmouth County and was studying medicine when one helicopter ride changed her mission in life.

"We flew with the doors open and it was exhilarating, and I was hooked from that moment," she says.

She was invited to ride in the helicopter by a classmate in medical school for a research project on pilots in the National Guard.

"Not long after that, I went to find a recruiter and signed up," Hou says.

General Hou has earned many honors during her 28-year career, including a Bronze Star for her service in Iraq.

"My deployment to Iraq was a very big turning point for me in my life and my career," she said.

As a field surgeon, she'll never forget being part of the team that saved a three-year-old Iraqi girl's life by removing a tumor from her tongue.

"We were able to make a significant change in her life by providing medical care that she didn't have access to. Things like that really make my heart sing," Hou says.

Now transitioning back from deployment she's found a new purpose.

"Continue to serve veterans throughout the state," Hou says. "I love working with veterans and soldiers and airmen of the New Jersey Guard. But at some point, I'll have to retire."

Until then, she plans to keep forging ahead.

She hopes her journey inspires others that they can do anything they put their mind to. 

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