AANHPI Heritage Month sortie and the inspiration behind it

  • Published
  • By Meagan Hannon
  • 552nd Air Control Wing

Celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the 552nd Air Control Wing recently flew a heritage sortie, crewed entirely by Airmen with the shared background.

For 1st Lt. Huan Pham, a 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron air battle manager, who spearheaded the flight, it was a continuation of his family’s military tradition.

“I was grateful for my grandfather’s sacrifices, and the generosity of the U.S. for allowing us to immigrate here, so I decided to continue my family's military heritage,” Pham said. “I am the first-generation of Vietnamese-American military officers in my family. That is an opportunity that I didn’t have in Vietnam, so I just want to live up to the chance I have been given.”

Pham’s maternal grandfather, Oanh Truong, started his military career in the French Legion, then commissioned into the South Vietnamese Army, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He served as an Army of the Republic of Vietnam Ranger during the Vietnam War, as well as a military-attaché for the South Vietnam embassy in Cambodia.

Truong was airborne infantry, and received airborne training in the U.S. before returning to Vietnam to serve out the remainder of his military career. He was on the last line of defense, operating from a forward operating base near Saigon, when he was captured one day prior to the Fall of Saigon in April, 1975.

Truong was transported to a "reeducation camp," a prison camp operated by the Communist Government of Vietnam, where he spent the next 17 years.

It was during his imprisonment that Pham’s grandmother took three of his uncles across the ocean in search of freedom. Later coined “boat-people,” they were some of the many Vietnamese people who spent weeks on the open sea seeking refuge.

After two weeks on the sea in a canoe, she and her children were rescued by the Thailand Navy. They were housed in a camp in Thailand for several years, until Pham’s grandfather was granted asylum by the U.S. government in 1992. It was then that Pham’s grandparents were reunited, as he was able to sponsor his grandmother and their unmarried children to the U.S.

Unfortunately Pham’s mother and other family members were made to stay behind due to their marital status, and it was not until 2009 that Pham’s immediate family arrived in the U.S.

Pham says his family believes that if you work hard, you can accomplish whatever you want. They are responsible for the work-ethic he maintains today.

When asked why the sortie is so important to him, he replied, “It is awesome to have an entire crew manned by AAPI personnel, performing all aspects of the sortie. It is so great that the 552nd ACW has given us the opportunity to showcase what we are capable of. This representation is such a big thing, as it is important for us to display to the younger generation that they can do anything they set their mind to.”

That very notion is precisely what his family’s lineage provided him.