JJ Singh Kapur
JJ Kapur was twelve years old when the unexpected happened. His family was worshipping at their Sikh temple in West Des Moines, Iowa, when a group of news reporters interrupted their service. His congregation received news that a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, had just become the site of a mass shooting by a white neo-Nazi gunman. The shooting happened in a small, Midwestern town only three hundred miles away. JJ remembers thinking, “It could have been us.”
This turning point became the beginning of JJ’s interfaith work in Iowa. In high school, JJ started a youth organization called “The Turbanators,” which was focused on “turban-ating” the negative stigma surrounding Sikhism in Iowa through awareness building and community service. In 2017, JJ became the first turbaned Sikh to win the most prestigious high school speech and debate competition in the U.S. After graduating in 2022 from Stanford University with a Bachelor of Arts with Honors in Theater and Performance Studies, JJ returned to his hometown of Des Moines as an AmeriCorps Lead for America Fellow, where he is currently serving with CultureALL to help Iowans build bridges with their diverse neighbors by cultivating a human library across his home state called “Open Book.”
Miyoko Hikiji served as an enlisted soldier for nine years and was deployed 403 days in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 – 2004. Her job duties included truck driver, unit correspondent, and administrative sergeant. During the deployment, she completed over 70 supply convoy, security, and raid missions throughout the northwest quadrant of Iraq. Simultaneously, Miyoko wrote a company newsletter, contributed to her support squadron’s newsletter, and wrote articles for a hometown newspaper. Miyoko’s earned 16 military decorations including the Army Commendation Medal (2), Army Achievement Medal (2), Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, and Iowa Humanitarian Service Medal. Her transportation company received the second highest unit decoration—the Valorous Unit Award—for extraordinary heroism. Upon her return from Iraq, Miyoko wrote her company’s deployment history for the archives at the Gold Star Museum on Camp Dodge—the Iowa Army and Air National Guard State Headquarters. Her war memoir, All I Could Be: My Story as a Woman Warrior in Iraq, was published in 2013 by History Publishing. Miyoko earned B.S. degrees in journalism and psychology from Iowa State University in 2004. She is a current student at The George Washington University, studying political management. Miyoko works at the US Census Bureau and lives in Urbandale with her daughters Grace and Noelle.
“In Iraq, all the rules and labels were thrown out. Though I was a ‘female’ soldier, whatever that meant on paper was meaningless in the sand. Iraq was a non-linear battlefield, meaning the enemy attacked from all sides. There was no place to operate in complete safety. Nearly as terrifying as the threat of being killed on mission was the fear of being assaulted by the male soldiers from other units I was sent to support. That atmosphere brought out the best and worst in soldiers.”