Saturday, January 14, 2006

CPT "Dennis" Nguyen

I still owe a longer post on my first week here at Ft. Jackson, especially given that today we transitioned from inprocessing to actual training. Today was first aid and Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (NBC) training, and yes, I still hate going into the gas chamber.

During some downtime yesterday, I struck up a conversation with one of the other officers activated from IRR, a quiet Vietnamese man who is a Military Police Captain. CPT Thinh "Dennis" Nguyen was born in South Vietnam in 1967 to a ARVN major. When Saigon fell in 1975, his father still managed to rally 20,000 South Vietnamese troops, but faced with the reality that they had no logistical base from which to fight, he ordered them to go home to take care of their families. Dennis's father returned home as well, but was quickly arrested by North Vietnamese agents and sent to a concentration camp in the North, where for ten years he endured starvation and torture.

Because of the economic and political situation in Vietnam, in 1981, at age 14, Dennis and his brother (then 12) escaped the country on a 22-foot fishing boat with over forty other men, women, and children. They sailed without food or water for ten days before they finally arrived in Malaysia. (As Dennis says with eloquent understatement, "It was a difficult journey.")

He and his brother eventually came to the United States and were placed in foster care with a family in Houston. His father was released from the camp in 1985, and in 1991 his family was able to arrange to immigrate to the United States. Dennis went on to college, and has a successful practice as a chiropractor in Texas. When the other officers in the car asked Dennis why he joined the Army, he said he just wanted to give something back to his new country.

Elie Wiesel once wrote that "No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night." Having escaped from a communist nightmare in Vietnam, CPT Nguyen has now volunteered to help bring the freedom he enjoys to Iraq.

I do not think words can express the admiration I feel towards this quiet man. I am proud to be serving with him.