Fly, Fight, Win: Becoming an American Airman

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Mary Andom
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

December 27, 2019 is a day Senior Airman Huy X. Nguyen will never forget. This is the day he became an American citizen.

Nguyen, a career development advisor assigned to the 446th Force Support Squadron, had donned his fatigues to take his oath of enlistment months prior. This time, driving more than 30 miles north of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, he would recite the oath of allegiance at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Tukwila, Washington.

After successfully completing his naturalization interview, an immigration services officer invited him to the ceremony. It wasn’t guaranteed Nguyen would be able to recite the oath. Luckily, two seats were left.

Pride, patriotism and a sense of accomplishment overwhelmed Nguyen as he raised his right hand and recited the words: “I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

“When they announced my name, it was the day my dream came true,” Nguyen said. “I cherish the oath of allegiance because it is my duty to protect and obey the law of the land. I am proud to call myself an American.”

But Nguyen’s journey to become an Airman and later an American wasn’t an easy one. 

The Vietnam War fragmented his family.

His uncle, Chi Xuan Nguyen, a former South Vietnamese pilot, left for the United States in 1981 as a refugee. Under the Refugee Act of 1980 signed by President Gerald Ford, displaced Cambodians and Vietnamese were able to come to the United States, according to the National Archives Foundation.

Nguyen and his family stayed behind. Three decades later, Nguyen’s family would later reunite with his uncle on American soil. 

Life in Vietnam

Born in the town of Dalat, Vietnam, a small city surrounded by lush emerald valleys and waterfalls, Nguyen and his family ventured to Saigon in 1995 in search of better economic opportunities. Nguyen would later go on to study French and tourism in college. 

“I was a marketing manager and a young entrepreneur in Vietnam before my family moved to the United States,” he said.  “I had a decent life in Vietnam but my dream was to explore different cultures and seek more opportunities to develop myself in an international environment.”

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services application his uncle submitted to sponsor Nguyen and his family was accepted in 2017. The family had four months to pack and prepare for America. Nguyen had a choice to stay, but he saw a promising future in a new land.

“When our sponsorship approval letter came, I decided to travel with my family to the U.S. because I knew I could learn so much from this new journey and adventure,” he said.  “Also, my family would need my help to settle down in this new life.”

Coming to America

When Nguyen landed in America for the first time, he was mesmerized by the massive Boeing aircraft landing on the tarmac of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. His family settled near King County Airport, where the daily sound of aircraft roared over their home.

“I would look up at the sky and say ‘one day I am going to become a pilot,’” Nguyen said. “I know I want to fly just like uncle.”

However, his aspirations to become a pilot took a backseat.

As the strongest English speaker in his family, Nguyen said he needed to provide for his family as the primary breadwinner. During the day, he answered phones as a customer service representative at T-Mobile. At night, he mopped floors working the graveyard shift as a janitor at a local elementary school.

The 16-hour days took a toll on the college-educated immigrant. Nguyen longed for something more.

“I barely got any sleep and I was tired all the time, but we needed an income to pay for housing, food, and bills,” he said. “I kept telling myself that I have to go to school, get a better job and that’s when I came across the Air Force Reserve.”

Nguyen remembers the patchwork of stories his uncle shared with him serving alongside American service members during the Vietnam War.

“My uncle trained at Lackland Air Force Base with American pilots in 1968, where he later commissioned as an officer with the South Vietnamese Air Force,” Nguyen said. “His eyes would light up whenever he spoke about his memories. He fought for the freedom of democracy.”

After speaking with an Air Force Reserve recruiter, Nguyen decided he would follow in a path of his uncle, but as an American Airman.

Becoming an Airman

Nguyen enlisted in the United States Air Force in December 14, 2018 just nine months after arriving in America. About a year after enlisting, the military provided him with an expedited pathway to U.S. citizenship.

Even though, Nguyen has been in the unit for less than two years, he has his eyes set on becoming a C-17 Globemaster III pilot. Once he gained his U.S. citizenship in 2019, it opened up the opportunity for him to become an officer.

“I would like to earn my pilot certification and then eventually commission,” Nguyen said.  “Being an American, I feel that I have to push myself to achieve further goals because the United States gives a lot of opportunities for one to learn, grow and explore. I would love to set an example as a role model for younger generations to dream and achieve their wildest goals.”

In the meantime, Nguyen said he is focused on becoming the best Airman possible with his feet on the ground, but his arms reaching for the sky.

“As a Reservist, I have to wear many hats at the same time and try to balance my life, civilian job, and my Air Force duty,” he said. “But every day, I wake up and tell myself that ‘this is a good day and I can do it.’ Our Air Force core values help me when it comes to making difficult decisions. I know it will guide me to do the best thing.”