From Afghanistan to Kentucky: Horse Soldier Bourbon

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By Kellie Speed

When U.S. Army Green Beret Scott Neil answered the country’s call days after 9/11 with a daring insertion into northern Afghanistan on horseback, he never could have imagined that he and retired members of the U.S. Special Forces would later create an all-American, ultra-premium whiskey. Their bravery earned Neil and his team the moniker of “Horse Soldiers” (portrayed in the 2018 movie 12 Strong) and later inspired the retired members of the U.S. Special Forces to create an award-winning bourbon.

Horse Soldier Bourbon was created in 2015 based on three core elements – building an authentic team, using all-American ingredients and products, and making an award-winning bourbon. Their three bourbons include the Straight Bourbon, Small Batch Bourbon and Barrel Strength Bourbon, along with limited edition annual expressions like the high-end Commander’s Select Limited Edition Release. They hold more than 30 awards, including three Double Gold Medals at the San Francisco International Spirits Competition.

The team will soon be opening a $200 million tourism distillery development project known as Horse Soldier Farms in Somerset, Kentucky. The venue will feature everything from a massive 27,585-square foot distillery visitor center, an amphitheater, adventure center, wedding chapel, luxury lodge with cabins and a retail village.

We caught up recently with Neil to discuss his transition to civilian life, how his military experience provided a path to success and how he and his team continue to honor their military past.

After returning to the U.S. from Afghanistan, was there a pivotal moment when you decided to become entrepreneurs and create Horse Soldier Bourbon?
I had initially worked as a government contractor following my retirement and immediately went back overseas. After my rotation, I promised my family that I would never work for the government again and knew that I would be best served working for myself and building my own business.

How do you think your military experience helped you on the path to creating this successful business venture?
There is an initial fear that maybe you do not have the same skills as someone that served as a business owner, but that is completely wrong. I did need to learn new words and acronyms, but I found it was the same as my prior service — culture, responsibility, work ethic — all are skills transferable to the next life of being an entrepreneur.

What were some of the challenges you faced transitioning to civilian life and starting a business post-military?
Believe it or not, the uncertainty places a lot of stress on your decision to move forward with starting your own business. The risk of failure weighs heavy on your mind, but you have to have all the elements, just like combat mission planning, for it to be successful.

How do you continue to honor your military past?
We still remember our past by keeping close to the active-duty community. We host events and retirements; we mentor current transitioning active-duty members on their choices and what to expect as they consider starting a business. We constantly say that it is time to serve in a different way. Be a productive member of society, become part of the next greatest generation. The ones that returned from WWII returned home to do great things for the growth of this country, and so can they. It is OK to live the American Dream they were defending.

Crestview WWII, Navy veteran celebrates 100th birthday. Look back on his service

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Navy World War II veteran celebrates 100th birthday

By Northwest Florida Daily News/USA TODAY NETWORK

World War II veteran Ralph Morris of Crestview celebrated his 100th birthday with friends, family, and caregivers at the Joint Ambulatory Care Center in Pensacola on Monday.

Morris, who enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1942, was recognized during the brief celebration by Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System (GCVHCS) Director Bryan C. Matthews.

“Our veterans are the reason we exist, and to celebrate the 100th birthday of an individual who was involved in one of the world’s greatest conflicts is an honor,” Matthews said. “(Ralph) Morris’ dedication to his duty serves as an example of what we — as an organization serving those who have served — embody, and I couldn’t be more proud to participate in this veteran’s milestone birthday.”

Morris, born June 13, 1922, in Jefferson, Iowa, enlisted in the Navy in 1942, and eventually served aboard USS Sigsbee (DD-502) and later aboard USS Alfred A. Cunningham (DD-752). Morris served as a Machinist’s Mate (MM) during his enlistment, working in both vessels’ power plants.

Morris ended his service and opened a home furnishings store in Jefferson, Iowa, was married and has two daughters. He moved to South Florida in 1959 and worked as a salesman. He later moved to Tallahassee, and in 2019 moved again to Crestview to live with his daughter.

Click here to read more on yahoonews.com

Biden nominates Marine general as next commander of US forces in Africa

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US Marine appointed commander of US forces in Africa

By Bryant Harris, Defense News

President Joe Biden on Thursday nominated Lt. Gen. Michael E. Langley to lead U.S. forces in Africa, teeing him up to become the first Black four-star Marine Corps general.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the president’s decision to nominate Langley as head of AFRICOM. Langley currently heads Marine Forces Command and Marine Forces Northern Command and is the commanding general of Fleet Marine Force Atlantic in Norfolk, Virginia.

Langley has served in Afghanistan, Somalia and Okinawa. He also has worked at the Pentagon and CENTCOM, which oversees US forces in the Middle East. Should the Senate confirm Langley, he will replace Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, who has led AFRICOM since July 2019. AFRICOM oversees U.S. troops dispersed throughout Africa, including in conflicts zones such as Somalia, where Biden recently reinstated troops to expedite airstrikes for counterterrorism operations. The command is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany.

Former President Donald Trump’s administration briefly sought to scale down the U.S. troop presence in Africa while merging AFRICOM with European Command (EUCOM), which is also based in Stuttgart. However, the plan stalled amid strong bipartisan rebuke in Congress.

The New York Times first reported last month that Langley would receive the nomination, and quoted former Defense Secretary James Mattis — himself a former four-star Marine general — effusively praising him.

“He’s a Marine’s Marine,” Mattis told the Times.

Click here to read more on Defense News.

SR-71 Pilot explains how he Survived to his Blackbird Disintegration at a Speed of Mach 3.2

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SR-71 pilot recounts events of his plane disintegrating around him

By Linda Sheffield Miller, theaviationgeekclub.com

During the Cold War, there was a need for a new reconnaissance aircraft that could evade enemy radar, and the customer needed it fast.

At Lockheed Martin’s advanced development group, the Skunk Works, work had already begun on an innovative aircraft to improve intelligence-gathering, one that would fly faster than any aircraft before or since, at greater altitude, and with a minimal radar cross section. The team rose to the nearly impossible challenge, and the aircraft took its first flight on Dec. 22, 1964. The legendary SR-71 Blackbird was born.

The first Blackbird accident that occurred that required the Pilot and the RSO to eject happened before the SR-71 was turned over to the Air Force. On Jan. 25, 1966 Lockheed test pilots Bill Weaver and Jim Zwayer were flying SR-71 Blackbird #952 at Mach 3.2, at 78,800 feet when a serious engine unstart and the subsequent “instantaneous loss of engine thrust” occurred.

The following story told by Weaver (available in Col. Richard H. Graham’s book SR-71 The Complete Illustrated History of THE BLACKBIRD The World’s Highest , Fastest Plane) is priceless in conveying the experience of departing a Blackbird at an altitude of fifteen miles and speed of Mach 3.2.

“Among professional aviators, there’s a well-worn saying: Flying is simply hours of boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror. And yet, I don’t recall too many periods of boredom during my 30-year career with Lockheed, most of which was spent as a test pilot.

By far, the most memorable flight occurred on Jan. 25, 1966. Jim Zwayer, a Lockheed flight test reconnaissance and navigation systems specialist, and I were evaluating those systems on an SR-71 Blackbird test from Edwards AFB, Calif. We also were investigating procedures designed to reduce trim drag and improve high-Mach cruise performance. The latter involved flying with the center-of-gravity (CG) located further aft than normal, which reduced the Blackbird’s longitudinal stability.

“We took off from Edwards at 11:20 a.m. and completed the mission’s first leg without incident. After refueling from a KC-135 tanker, we turned eastbound, accelerated to a Mach 3.2-cruise speed and climbed to 78,000 ft., our initial cruise-climb altitude.

Click here to read more on theaviationgeekclub.com

Military veteran graduates from college alongside his daughter

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dad and daughter graduating

NORFOLK, Va. – A father and daughter from Portsmouth, Virginia, are now bonded by their college graduations from the same school and on the same day.

Marvin Fletcher, a retired U.S. Marine and Army veteran, told Fox News Digital that he was shocked when he found out that both he and his daughter SaNayah Hill, 17, would be graduating from Tidewater Community College at the same time.

In a phone interview, Fletcher said he felt overwhelming pride when he learned that his daughter had completed her career studies certificate in emergency medical service as a dual-enrollment student — before even finishing her junior year at Deep Creek High School.

“I’m just grateful for the opportunity that TCC afforded myself, as well as other veterans, and my daughter,” Fletcher said.

He earned his associate’s degree in applied science in management after serving for four years in the Marine Corps and eight years in the Army.

Fletcher added, “I’m humbled and honored to have served. And I like the fact that my daughter wants to serve in the medical field in her own way.”

The father-daughter pair completed their graduation march on Monday, May 9, at the Chartway Arena in Norfolk, Virginia.

Click here to read the full article on FOX.

Meet Volition America’s CEO John Sapiente

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John Sapiente pictured with his clothing brand spread around him

Clothing and Accessories Brand Volition America Inspires Support for Our Veterans and Fallen Heroes.

Can you tell our audience a bit about yourself and how you found yourself currently sitting where you are today?
My story of how I got involved in this and how I found myself sitting here today is unique. My background has nothing to do with apparel, consumer goods, or brand building. I am a manufacturing guy and a proud American. I currently own and operate two manufacturing companies that manufacture Safety-Critical components for the Automotive Industries and Disposable Devices for the Med Device Community. My journey into building a brand that celebrates country and gives back to our military community was inspired by my involvement in the Folds of Honor Foundation (Folds has provided over $180,000,000 of scholarships to children and spouses of our fallen soldiers and is a 4-star Goldstar-rated charity, and $.91 of every dollar donated goes to the recipients) and Lt. Colonel Dan Rooney (Founder of the Folds of Honor Foundation).

What is Volition America?
Volition is the most powerful word in the English Dictionary. It is the power of choice. You can love, hate, be happy or sad! But ultimately, the choices you make write the legacy of your life. Colonel Rooney approached me about starting the Volition America Brand. The idea behind Volition America was to create a for-profit entity that could create a larger commercial impact, expand its audience, and raise more money for our fallen soldiers’ families thru the Folds of Honor Foundation. (Colonel Rooney also believes his mission is to teach people the power of Volition (a word he feels is the driving force to his life’s journey). Volition is about making the choices to live your best life; our brand chooses to celebrate and unite our country. We use our Volition to choose America and give people the tools to stand up and say, this is what I stand for.

What inspired you to start Volition America?
Ultimately my desire to support Dan Rooney’s mission through Folds of Honor and my love of country inspired me to do this. The ideal he embodies drives us and reminds us that we have the opportunity and privilege to be better than we were the day before. Our goal when starting this brand was to create a group of brands and products that people could use that allowed them to stand up and say; this is what I stand for while helping raise money and awareness for the Folds of Honor Foundation.

What is your connection to our veterans?
My story dates to 2013, when I first attended a Folds of Honor Gala and won an auction to play golf with Masters Champion Craig Stadler. When I won the auction, I didn’t realize that we would be playing golf on Memorial Day and spending the weekend with many of our military members and their families. Before my experience on that day, Memorial Day had just been symbolic of a day to BBQ and play golf. Listening to their stories and getting to spend time with them, I realized that for 44 years, I had taken the sacrifices our Servicemen and their families make for all of us for granted. To this day, I tell people that weekend was my “Patriotic Awakening,” and supporting our military through the Folds of Honor Foundation has become crucial aspect of my and my family’s life.

What has been the most difficult part of your journey?
I think the political landscape of our country has misrepresented what the word patriotism means. People are mistaking patriotism for policy and politics. The Volition America brand isn’t political. It’s a brand that we hope will unite people to choose America by empowering them with the power of Volition. I often tell people you can be very far left and love your country and you can be very far right and love your country. We use a quote at Volition: “we aren’t red, and we aren’t blue…. We are RED WHITE AND BLUE” Our hope is the love of country, and the use of positive choices will bring us together. Fighting through the misunderstanding of what being patriotic means

What makes Volition America stand out?
The Volition America Brand is about building something more prominent than a shirt or a sporting product. We wanted to create a movement that brings our country together and empowers people to make better choices while giving back to those who gave us the freedom of choice. We are doing this by building a brand coalition of like-minded brands. We have added many great partners (Puma, Wilson, Cobra, Demarini, Revo, Luminox, and EvoShield). We also recently launched the Volition America Fund (FLDZ) with RiverNorth Capital, a publicly-traded ETF that invests in American Companies that invest in America. We believe that each brand collaboration will vastly increase the aggregate reach. Thus, giving us a much broader space to raise money and awareness as brands engage their collective audiences

How significantly has Volition America helped our veterans so far?
There are so many fantastic charities that benefit the veteran community. I chose Folds of Honor because their values aligned with my core values about education being the key to our country’s future. Folds of honor offers scholarships to our fallen or severely injured families. In my opinion, there is no better way to honor our fallen heroes than to educate their legacy through The Folds of Honor Foundation. Our ultimate mission is to help support the veterans through the Folds of Honor Foundation. That is the ethos of our company logo. The Folds logo is in the center of our logo but with wings. The idea of our mark is that we are lifting Folds and helping take them places they usually couldn’t go. So, if people want to give back to Veterans by supporting Volition America, we give 13% of our revenue to the Folds of Honor Foundation. We chose 13 because there are 13 folds in a folded flag. That is significant because many brands will only give back a % of their profits. So regardless of the company’s success, our Fallen Heroes and their families will receive our help. We have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Folds of Honor, increased raised awareness, and hope to see our annual donations grow to millions.

How would you encourage our readers to get involved?
Support us by going to our website and buying products or donating directly to Folds of Honor Foundation. We are always looking for great companies that would like to join our movement and be a part of our brand coalition, helping us get our message out and bring awareness to the Volition America brand.

What are your plans for the future?
I will continue building our Volition America Movement so that one day our brand will be a household name that consumers will know when they wear our logo. They tell what the person wearing the logo stands for when they see it.

How Hot Soup Almost Stopped a War

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Milchsuppe and armored soldier

By Sarah Sicard, MilitaryTimes

When people think of Switzerland, they tend to think neutrality (and cool pocket knives and stylish watches, I guess). But there was a point when the country was caught up in a religious civil war that their armies tried to resolve with soupaccording to lore.

In the early 16th century, conflict arose between the Protestant forces from Zurich and Catholic forces from Zug — Switzerland’s Christian Reformation — but legend has it that on the field of Kappel am Albis, no blood was shed. Instead, the armies simply shared some good, hot soup.

There are no records that detail how the soup was made or where it came from, but the story of the milk soup, known as “Kappel Milchsuppe” has become an integral story in Swiss history.

Made primarily with bread and milk, there is no definitive recipe left from the 1500s. Today’s recipes, however, feature various takes with butters, milks, cheeses, onion and garlic.

Though few facts about the original 500-year-old soup can be verified, BBC reported that historians agree the “broth was created by accident in June 1529 when two hungry armies met on a battlefield on what is now known as the Milchsuppestein, or ‘milk soup pasture.’”

“The soldiers from both sides mingled and eventually dined together — supposedly the troops from Zug provided the milk, and those from Zürich the bread to make this soup,” wrote Swiss cook and blogger Andie Pilot.

This brought to a close the first Kappel War.

“Negotiations continued, but to the amazement of everyone, the infantry brokered their own truce over a cooking pot while on the battlefield,” former Kappel Abbey pastor and historian Susanne Wey-Korthals told BBC. “Naturally, they were hungry after the long march, and Zürich had plenty of bread and salt, while Zug had a surplus of milk from its farms. From that the legend was born.”

Unfortunately the bisque was not enough to stop the fighting indefinitely.

The second Kappel War was fought in 1531. Ironically, a food embargo imposed on the Catholics brought the two armies back to war, bringing about a resolution in Switzerland’s Protestant Reformation. Ultimately, the Roman Catholics would go on to win when Zürich’s Protestant leader Huldrych Zwingli was killed.

Still, the lands of Milchsuppestein and the legendary soup enjoyed by the two warring factions became enduring symbols of Swiss peace. A stone monument to the original bloodless battlefield meeting remains there to this day.

“These fields have played witness to some of the most important moments in Swiss history,” Wey-Korthals said. “Switzerland found a way to compromise here. To concentrate on what we had in common rather than focus on our differences. It sounds remarkable, but we did it over a bowl of soup.”

Click here to read the complete article posted on Historynet.com.

From the Editor’s Desk–Staying on Mission

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These past two years have seen a lot of curves and twists. Many have been able to succeed and thrive while others had to be more flexible, adapting to the challenges of a new normal. Yet, it’s those who persevere to the end, those who stay on mission, who will see the results.

As four-star general Colin Powell said, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.”

This month’s feature, comedian, philanthropist and retired Marine Drew Carey, has been making America laugh for the better part of 30 years.

Carey says it was his time in the service that helped mold him into the person he is now. “Military life and experiences gave me incredible experiences in leadership — especially in small groups, and under pressure,” Carey said.

“There’s a tremendous amount of trust that other people will do their jobs and that you’ll do yours. So, there’s social pressure. And a lot of subservience to the mission and the greater good of the group…you never want to be the one who can’t rise to the occasion.”

Read more about Carey and his gratitude for his time in uniform on page 58.

Also, for tips on navigating through life’s rough patches, visit page 14 and read “Relying on Military Experience During Times of Uncertainty.”

Tawanah Reeves-Ligon headshotFor small business owners trying to survive their initial launch, make sure you read our advice on page 30, and for those who struggle with PTSD or have loved ones who do, we’re talking about symptoms, treatments and “Debunking the Myths of PTSD” on page 68.

At US Veterans Magazine, we value and honor your service to our country, and it’s our mission to help you succeed in and out of uniform.

— Tawanah Reeves-Ligon
Editor, U.S. Veterans Magazine

Woman rescued during Katrina is Louisiana Army National Guard’s first Black female pilot

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Black female pilot in uniform smiling standing in front of helicopter

A woman who was rescued from the Superdome by a helicopter during Hurricane Katrina has gone on to become the Louisiana Army National Guard’s first Black female pilot.

Warrant Officer Tatiana Julien of New Orleans flies a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter in B Company, 1-244th Assault Helicopter Battalion, which is based in Hammond.

“I feel like I now have a responsibility to let young females know that aviation is an option for them even though it is a male-dominated field,” she said. “There aren’t many women, and even fewer Black women, in aviation, both in the military and on the civilian side.”

She said she had no idea she’d be a trailblazer when she asked for the training.

“It feels surreal,” she said.

The Louisiana Army National Guard’s 115 or so helicopter pilots include six African Americans, three other minorities and five women, including Julien, said Sgt. Dennis Ricou, a guard spokesman.
‘Spark an interest’

Julien decided to become a pilot after seeing a Black pilot from New Orleans in her unit while it was deployed to the Middle East from 2017 to 2018. That pilot became her mentor.

“We often don’t realize what kind of impact we have on other people’s lives. Simply seeing someone doing their job is enough to spark an interest,” Julien said.

Continue on to Nola.com to read the complete article.

Drew Carey: A Grateful Marine

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By Brady Rhoades

The Price is Right host and Hollywood icon Drew Carey is, in many ways, an unlikely Marine.

The congenial, bespectacled, self-described “peacenik” comedian served his country as a sergeant and field radio operator with the 25th Marine Regiment and calls the experience a pivot-point in his life.

“Military life and experiences gave me incredible experiences in leadership — especially in small groups, and under pressure,” Carey, 63, said in an interview with U.S. Veterans Magazine. “The military is not about yelling at someone to do things, as people wholly unfamiliar with the military would believe. There’s a tremendous amount of trust that other people will do their jobs and that you’ll do yours. So, there’s social pressure. And a lot of subservience to the mission and the greater good of the group. So, you learn to swallow that and perform because there are always stakes, great and small. And you never want to be the one who can’t rise to the occasion. You’re reminded of this dynamic constantly in the Marines. It’s just there. No one has to yell at you about it.”

Rewind to 1980. Carey, who hails from Cleveland, was jobless, broke and crashing at his brother’s California home when he joined the military.

It turned out to be a watershed move.

“I went from not being able to afford to eat or clothe myself to getting three meals a day. I had an instant family,” Carey said.

The lessons his new family — the Marine Corps — taught Carey ring true to him to this day. They explain, in part, why he’s committed to the ideal of service.

One of his most famous philanthropic efforts took place in 2014 when he promised $10,000 to help find the perpetrators of a fake “ice bucket challenge” involving an autistic 14-year-old Ohio boy who had been told he was going to be doused in ice but instead was showered in urine, tobacco and cigarette butts.

“Horrendous,” Carey tweeted at the time.

Drew Carey seated in helicopter wearing fatigues and posing with another Marine
Drew Carey and others meet with and perform for military members during comedy tour for USO.

Drew Carey and others meet with and perform for military members during comedy tour for USO.

Carey, who checked out a joke book from a local library after his stint in the Marines, is a big supporter of libraries. Over the years, he has donated millions to the Ohio Library Foundation and Cleveland Public Library.

And he advocates for active military personnel and veterans — performing in USO tours, competing in the Marine Corps Marathon, and raising money in various ways.

On a lighter note, Carey continues to advocate for the Cleveland Browns, who sported a disappointing 8-9 record this season. After Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield was sacked nine times in a 26-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Jan. 3, the funny man tweeted this:

Maybe the #Browns offensive line just doesn’t like Baker Mayfield?

Ever think of that?

Or it’s some kind of insurance scam.

I dunno.

When Carey completed his military service in 1986, he turned to standup comedy at the Cleveland Comedy Club and other venues.

In 1988, he competed on Star Search. In 1991, he landed a spot on HBO’s Young Comedians Special and appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He went on to co-star in the Disney TV series The Good Life and worked as a staff writer on The Gaby Hoffmann Show.

Actors Wayne Brady, Drew Carey, Pauley Perrette, and Jai Rodriguez pose outside smiling
(L-R) Actors Wayne Brady, Drew Carey, Pauley Perrette, and Jai Rodriguez attend the 29th Annual AIDS Walk. (Photo by Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images)

By the mid-1990s, Carey was a household name, starring in The Drew Carey Show, which ran from 1995-2004, and the improv/sketch show Whose Line Is It Anyway? on which he was host and producer from 1998-2007.

The success of that show led to the creation of Drew Carey’s Improv All Stars, a talented troupe that performed across the country.

Carey was cast in movie roles and penned a best-selling memoir titled, Dirty Jokes and Beer: Stories of the Unrefined.

In 2007, he was named the host of The Price Is Right, succeeding longtime host Bob Barker. This year marks the show’s 50th anniversary.

As if that doesn’t keep him busy enough, Carey is more-than-passingly involved in music.

“I play rock n roll every Friday night on Sirius channel 21,” Carey said. “Little Steven’s Underground Garage. It’s called the Friday Night Freakout, and it airs from 8 to 11 p.m. EST. Also streams on the Sirius app. It’s my passion project.”

Most people know all about Carey’s TV career — and now they know

Drew Carey speaks at a podium at the Veterans Inaugural Ball
Actor Drew Carey attends the Veterans Inaugural Ball.(Kris Connor/Getty Images)

about his love of rock and roll — but what do they know of pre-famous Drew Carey? Probably not much.

That goes back to the unlikely part, although Carey said he’s not that unlikely.

“I know it sounds paradoxical, but despite being such a supporter of our troops and the military, I’m a real peacenik. I’m half hippy, to be honest. But I know I’m not the only one.”

He’s also not the only Buddhist who’s served his country.

“I discovered Buddhism and meditation late in life,” he said. “You do it because it’s the least conflicted and happiest way to live. And because it’s just the right thing to do. It took me a while, but I no longer consider anyone else above or below me. I used to think I did. But I didn’t. I would be intimidated by or jealous of different types of people in power or with different social standings. And I would feel sorry for people who didn’t have as much in one way or another. Now none of that matters to me as far as how I treat them. We all have our path. I try to treat everyone with the same dignity and respect.”

And, of course, he will always be an Ohio-style diehard when it comes to veterans, a feeling that took root in his teens.

Drew Carey as a young  Marine headshot
Drew Carey during his time in the U.S. Marine Corps.

“I graduated high school in 1975, the year we got the last helicopter out,” he said. “I delivered the Cleveland Plain Dealer as a paperboy. They broke the Mai Lai Massacre story. I remember folding all those papers with those awful pictures on the front page. And I remember how badly soldiers were treated when they got home, both by civilians and our institutions. I believe it’s important for us to always recognize the sacrifices it takes to serve in our military, and how necessary they are… We need to recognize and applaud people in our military who do their jobs well, and with honor. Period.”

From Vietnam to Flag Rank – An Asian American Story

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Rear Admiral Huan Nguyen headshot

Rear Adm. Huan Nguyen’s road to an admiral’s star was not a journey for the faint of heart. Arriving in this country as a teenage orphan from Vietnam, he faced an uphill climb. He credits his Asian heritage and community with helping him get to the top.

On Oct. 19, 2019, Nguyen put on a rear admiral’s star, making him the first Vietnamese American to attain flag rank in the U.S. Navy. That October day was a far cry from his roots as a boy in the 1960s, growing up in the South Vietnamese city of Hue at the height of the Vietnam War. His is a story of personal loss and adversity, and the resilience he found in himself through serving his adopted country.

“Growing up in the war zone, it is literally a day-to-day mental attitude,” said Nguyen, who is a Naval Sea Systems Command Deputy Commander for Cyber Engineering.

“You never know what is going to happen next. The war is at your doorsteps. Images of gunships firing in the distance, the rumbling of B52 bombings on the countryside, the nightly rocket attacks from the insurgents—it becomes a daily routine. There is so much ugliness in the war and living through a period of intense hatred, I didn’t have any peace of mind.”

Nguyen’s father was an armor officer in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, making his whole family enemies of the Viet Cong insurgents.

During the 1968 Tet Offensive, his family was attacked in their home. His parents and five brothers and sisters all died at the hands of the Viet Cong.

Nguyen, nine at the time, was shot three times. Though gravely wounded himself, he stayed with his wounded mother, trying to help her. Once she died, Nguyen, despite his wounds, managed to escape.

He would live with his uncle until the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, when they fled the country.

MyNavy HR sat down with Nguyen to talk about his journey and the contributions that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make to the Navy and the nation. Here are his words:

MyNavy HR: How did the tragic events of your childhood in Vietnam shape who you are and who you became?

Rear Adm. Nguyen: It is not easy to get over the trauma of losing your entire family. It has been over fifty years, but it is something I will never forget. Every day I asked myself: “Why me?”

I thought of myself as a curse. In my mind, bad news was always around the corner; it was just a matter of time. I was afraid of building relationships just to lose the people I love. I was afraid of losing everything.

I have often thought of the actions of my father the day he died. Why did he make those decisions that ultimately led to not just his death but those of my mother and siblings? Would I have made the same choices?

The message I have come to understand from his example is that it is about service before self and doing what is right, with honor. What I experienced and learned from that event is about honor, courage, and commitment. The same ethos that the Navy I serve pledges today to uphold — honor, courage, and commitment.

MyNavy HR: What did growing up in a time of war teach you about resilience at a young age?

Rear Adm. Nguyen: Having gone through the war in Vietnam and having survived the worst of it, I strongly believe that we all have the inner strength to be resilient.

Having a chance to emigrate here to the U.S. gave me hope. Every day I wake up, looking at my scars every morning; I thank God that I am alive. I learned to take control of my own destiny and overcome the adversities that life throws at me.

To go beyond just surviving, and to thrive through the trauma, the stress, the emotional scars that I carry with me. I needed to have the courage to challenge and conquer adversities rather than allow myself to wallow in self-loathing and victimhood. It also helps when you think about serving something that is greater than yourself. In my case, it is about serving my country.

MyNavy HR: Tell us about your journey to America and how and why you joined the Navy?

Rear Adm. Nguyen: I first set foot on American soil forty-six years ago. Under Operation New Life, more than 111,000 Vietnamese refugees were transported to Guam in the last days of the Vietnam War, and I was one of them.

At 15-years old, I was scared. I was afraid. I didn’t know what to expect. On Guam, I witnessed the young Sailors and Marines go above and beyond their duties to make us feel welcome. They made us feel like a part of their family, a part of this country.

I knew then I wanted to be in the U.S. Navy. Their dedication to service and their commitment to helping us inspired me. I wanted to repay the kindness and my debt to this country and serve our great nation.

In college, I tried to join the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps. But, not being a citizen yet, I could not.

After receiving my citizenship, I applied and was admitted to the Navy Reserve as an Engineering Duty Officer through the Direct Commission Program. One of the best decisions that I’ve made.

MyNavy HR: Returning to war in Iraq as a Sailor. Can you tell us what you did and where and what that experience was like for you?

Rear Adm. Nguyen: It was one of those experiences that I will remember for life. It is the idea of shared risk, of serving the soldiers, Sailors and Marines that keep you going. It is the bond that you developed between each other for life.

I worked on the Counter [Improvised Explosive Device (IED)] mission, first with the Army Warlock Program Office, Task Force Troy and the Joint Crew field office. I was involved in fielding, training, engineering in the early days of the war.

I was the executive officer and chief engineer for an Army O6 when I first got into theater. Since it was the early period of our fight against radio controlled IED, I did everything along with our military and contractors’ personnel.

We collected intel, developed threat loads, route clearance and did mundane administrative control. I am grateful that I have a chance to serve and to do my part in the fight. A few memorable moments that I remembered were the chance to brief then Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen when he came into theater. He was surprised to learn that Navy personnel were leading the Counter IED fight.

By then, my CO was Navy Capt. David “Fuzz” Harrison. He and I had a chance to work on a Request For Force that brought in hundreds of officers and enlisted Navy personnel to help with Counter IED fight, leading to the establishment of Joint Crew Composite Squadron 1.

I also attended many memorial events for soldiers who lost their lives in the line of duty in the C-IED fight. It speaks volumes to the toughness and dedication and honor of our service members.

MyNavy HR: What does it mean to be the first Vietnamese American to achieve flag rank? How does that make you feel as a person, as an Asian American?

Rear Adm. Nguyen: It is a great honor to attain the rank of admiral. I am tremendously humbled to become the first Vietnamese American to wear flag rank in the U.S. Navy.

The honor actually belongs to the Vietnamese American community, which instilled in us a sense of patriotism, duty, honor, courage and commitment to our adopted country the United States of America.

This is our America. A country built on service, kindness and generosity, opportunity and the freedom to hope and dream. These values are what inspired me to serve. And what a great honor and privilege it is to serve our Navy—to serve our country—to support and defend our Constitution.”

MyNavy HR: Tell us how being an Asian American and specifically a Vietnamese American has shaped you as an American and a Sailor? What is it that your heritage brings to the table for you today?

Rear Adm. Nguyen; I came here as a political refugee in the 1970s. Millions of South Vietnamese refugees left their homeland, risking their lives, seeking freedom on the high seas. Many fall victim to pirates, to weather.

Yet, they were determined to leave, seeking the ideas of freedom and democracy. Refugees have typically suffered severe trauma, lost family members, and languished in refugee camps before coming to the United States.

They leave their homelands without hopes or plans to return again.

Nevertheless, once here, Southeast Asian refugees share many experiences in common with other immigrants and refugees from all over the world.

Things such as a language barrier, culture shock, racial discrimination and the challenge of starting new lives are shared between us all.

A common and a long-standing tradition for Asian Americans is the belief that we are not only individuals but also part of a larger community.

This is also a shared experience and value among Vietnamese Americans and all other minority groups. All Americans believe in the value of hard work, family responsibility, community development, and investment in education for the next generation.

Together we are stronger.

MyNavy HR: What does service mean to you and how does patriotism fit into that for you?

Rear Adm. Nguyen: America was founded on ideas that our founding fathers stated eloquently in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. The history of our country is a struggle to keep these ideas alive.

My desire to serve is to give back and repay the debt to this country and fight for the ideas and values for our children, for our next generation, for the world. It took years, including a civil war, for the United States to be where we are today.

America has always been great. We are the North Star to the world on the ideas of democracy and freedom. As a U.S. citizen and as an American service member, I have the duty and the honor to serve and to ensure that the American Dream is alive, that the ideas that our founding fathers of freedom and equality are preserved.

Source: U.S. Navy

Photo credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Mark D. Faram

Providing Business, DVBE. Employment & Educational Opportunities For Veterans

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Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. Multiple Hire GI Hiring Events During June-December!
    June 21, 2022 - December 8, 2022
  4. San Diego Unified Construction Expo 2022
    July 13, 2022
  5. Business Beyond Barriers Conference + Expo
    July 14, 2022