VICKSBURG, Miss. (June 3, 2019)--In a compelling career with the U.S. Army that includes a letter from Pope Benedict XVI, a role in capturing Saddam Hussein, a part in the 2007 Iraq War troop surge and a long list of technical accomplishments, Lt. Col. Phuong Nguyen considers his recent promotion an important achievement. “I’m very pleased,” he said. “It’s been a lot of hard work from the start.”
Originally from Viet Nam, Nguyen was granted asylum in the U.S. in 1989, along with his immediate family, which included four younger brothers. “Realizing the U.S. was a land of opportunity, I struggled to find my footing and fit into the culture,” he said.
Having now visited 40 countries, Nguyen knows unequivocally that the U.S. is where he wants to be. “I feel indebted to the U.S.,” he said. “Since the eighth grade, I’ve wanted to pay back the country through service.”
It was this call to service that led him to participate in Reserve Officer Training Corps programs in high school and college. “After graduation, I went into active duty as a second lieutenant in the Army in 2002,” he said. “I eventually become part of the new Army Stryker program, a medium-sized unit with lots of fire power deployed to Iraq in 2003.”
The unit also scouted to protect the flanks of the Army and found Saddam Hussein hiding in a cave. It was a collaborative operation to pull him out.”
As part of the 2007 troop surge in Iraq, Nguyen’s unit was assigned to the heart of Baghdad. “Our unit came upon a complex surrounding a Chaldean Catholic Church,” he said. “We secured the church and its complex, and they were able to conduct their first Easter Mass in years.”
Pope Benedict XVI heard about the church — because it made international news — and inquired about it, learning that we had installed sensors and Soldiers on the church’s rooftop and on the bell tower. He wrote a letter to my unit thanking us for securing the church and asking us to please move to the complex’s school, which we did.”
Fast forward to his tenure at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Nguyen worked to link ERDC to Program Executive Offices, the Army’s entity for fielding equipment to the Soldier; he focused on raising awareness of ERDC’s roles in the Army Futures Command, the command established to modernize the Army; and he strove to forge a connection between ERDC and the Army Requirements Office ⸺ all will enhance ERDC’s ability to synchronize research with the Army’s priorities.
At the promotion ceremony, ERDC Director Dr. David Pittman expressed his appreciation of Nguyen’s contributions to ERDC, telling Nguyen’s mother in front of the crowd of well-wishers that she raised a great man, a great son, and that Nguyen always thinks about her. “He’s such a sage and wise young man, and a great travelling companion,” he said. “I learned as much from him as he has from me.”
Nguyen is attending Northcentral University’s online program, pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in technology and innovation management with a specialization in engineering management. “Innovation is always there, and very seldom do we think of it as a separate step,” he said. “Learning the engineering behind innovation: processes, methods, metrics and analyses is what the degree is about.”
Nguyen said the two experiences that have given him the most satisfaction in his career were when he helped two separate families immigrate to the United States to escape danger in their respective native countries.
The first situation occurred during his first deployment to Iraq in 2003. Nguyen learned his interpreter had been beheaded by terrorists when they discovered the linguist was working for the U.S. The surviving wife and two infant children went into hiding, fearing for their lives.
Nguyen worked with the American Embassy in Baghdad to help the family members seek refugee status. The applications were approved within six months, and the family moved to Arizona. “The family is really happy living in the U.S.,” he said.
In the second situation, he met a soldier in the dining hall in Kuwait and sensed the soldier was troubled. “The soldier told me that his family was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and conditions there were dire,” he said. “As a young soldier starting out his career, he didn’t have the resources to sponsor them for immigration.”
Feeling a connection to the soldier, Nguyen offered to sign the required sponsorship paperwork with the immigration office. One year later, the family was granted permission to come to the U.S.
At the promotion ceremony, Col. Ivan Beckman, Commander of ERDC, described how Nguyen lived by each of the seven basic Army values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. “Selfless service: I really see that about you,” Beckman said.