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St. Croix - ET2 Ky Nguyen

This article will run in the RESERVIST Magazine, Issue 1, 2018.

By: Petty Officer 2nd Class Paul Dragin, District 9 External Affairs

   Last October, Petty Officer 2nd Class Ky Nguyen was in the middle of moving his family into a new house when he received a phone call. The reserve electronics technician for the Gulf Coast Strike Team in Mobile, Ala., had been recalled to support the Coast Guard’s response to the one-two punch of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

  They received orders to neighboring states and with their love holding steady, they married six months later. A day that most young brides would agonize over was planned by their parents with less than two weeks for the ceremony and honeymoon between deployments.

  Nguyen was in the middle of one of the busiest times of his life, but he answered the call to step up and put his skills to use in the middle of the widespread devastation. He notified his job where he worked as HVAC specialist to deploy the following day to the U.S. Virgin Islands.


 St. Croix Maritime Operations 

  When Nguyen arrived on the island of St. Croix in mid-October, the needs of the people were readily apparent, yet he was struck by the resiliency and sense of community he experienced.

  “People were very friendly and seemed optimistic, despite all of the challenges ahead.” Nguyen said, “Slowly, things were improving on the island, and people celebrated those little victories, rather than focusing on what they may be lacking.”

  The Coast Guard, as part of a coordinated Federal Emergency Management Agency response, was working to evaluate and clean up spills and hazardous materials in the maritime environment. They also had to identify and recover vessels that had sunk or been displaced due to the hurricanes.

  On St. Croix, Nguyen served as a vessel assessment field responder. On most days, he conducted shoreside or waterside inspections of hurricane-impacted vessels. Throughout the Virgin Islands, over 400 vessels have been identified for removal from the waterways. 

 Nguyen especially enjoyed working with the Coast Guard’s partner agency, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. While in the field, Coast Guard assessment teams worked alongside members of DPNR, local area experts who proved to be invaluable partners.

  “These are men and women who had their homes destroyed by the hurricanes, who worked full days with us, then went home to help with the cleanup and rebuilding process of their homes and those of their neighbors,” Nguyen said. “The recovery will come to an end, but the friendships I’ve developed with people here on the island will endure for years to come.”

 

Fleeing for his Life

  Growing up, Nguyen never envisioned that joining the Coast Guard was even a possibility.  He spent the first 13 years of his life in Saigon, Vietnam. Late one night in 1989, with the political situation becoming increasingly dire for the Vietnamese who supported the United States during the Vietnam War, Nguyen was awakened by his father. That night, they would flee the country, with little knowledge that it would be the last time he would ever see his home again. His mother made the difficult decision to stay behind—along with some of his siblings—to help care for her aging mother, planning to escape at a later time.

  With only minutes to collect the few valuables they could carry, Nguyen and his father made their way to the shore where a boat was waiting to whisk them out of the country. As they approached the boat, the moonlight illuminated the men, women and children lying down, packed side-by-side, covering the boat’s surface. Nguyen and his father were instructed to lie down beside the more than 30 people packed inside a boat meant for half of that.

  For the next several days, they faced the haunting prospects of sickness, limited food and water, and a terrifying ordeal with Thai pirates who boarded their boat, stealing all of the meager valuables the passengers had.

  After several days on the open seas, the boat finally made landing in Malaysia. Nguyen later learned that his cousin, who was traveling on another boat, perished on the journey.

  With family members dislocated far and wide and no way of knowing of their condition, Nguyen and his father would spend the next year of their lives in a Malaysian refugee camp. Living in overcrowded and stifling conditions, they held onto hope that they would eventually find refuge in America

  Eventually, Nguyen and his immediate family, made it to the United States for a new beginning. After graduating from college with a degree in biology, Nguyen had a yearning to give back in a tangible way. He decided on the Coast Guard, in large part due to its mission of saving lives and maritime environmental protection.

   After serving nine years on active duty, Nguyen joined the Coast Guard Reserve in 2016. Responding to the hurricanes was his first deployment as a reservist. The deployment caused Nguyen to reflect on his experiences of displacement, and he understood firsthand what it felt like to lose everything and start over.

  “We can never walk in another’s shoes, but as a refugee, I can relate to losing everything and starting over,” Nguyen said.

  At times during his deployment on St. Croix, he found his mind racing with thoughts of the life he left behind in Vietnam and all that he lost in the process.

  “So many of my neighbors and friends never made it out of Vietnam, and I often think about what their lives are like compared to mine,” Nguyen said.

  He admired the tenacious spirit of the people in St. Croix, refusing to let circumstance dictate their outlook as they picked up the pieces of their lives shattered by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

  “For me, a big takeaway from this deployment is that despite some people losing everything they had, they still exuded a happiness in their spirit, lifting mine in the process,” Nguyen said.

  His supervisor at the Gulf Strike Team, Senior Chief Petty Officer Direck Satterfield, an electrician’s mate, worked alongside Nguyen during their deployment.

  “Ky was relatively new to our unit, so this [was] the first chance I had to work closely with him,” Satterfield said. “Ky was very supportive of his shipmates and bonded well with the local agency partners. I can’t say enough about what an impressive young man he is.”

  Satterfield was so impressed with Nguyen in terms of his work ethic and ability at adapting to any situation, he added, “In my book, there’s God, Mother Teresa and Ky.”

 Nguyen was grateful for the opportunity to serve alongside the residents, volunteers and federal emergency responders who continue with the cleanup and restoration efforts throughout the Virgin Islands.

  “Serving others after the devastating hurricanes in the Virgin Islands is a privilege that I will never forget,”

 

Deployed Reservist Petty Officer 2nd Class Ky Nguyen

Petty Officer 2nd Class Ky Nguyen, an electronic technician for the Gulf Strike Team, Mobile, Ala., assesses vessels as part of his work as a vessel assessment field responder, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, November 2, 2017. Together with the EPA, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and other agency partners, the Coast Guard is responding to active pollution and removing hazards from the harbors, waterways and shorelines of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Paul Dragin

 

Deployed Reservist Petty Officer 2nd Class Ky Nguyen speaks to a boat owner during a vessel inspection.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Ky Nguyen, an electronic technician for the Gulf Strike Team, Mobile, Ala., and Department of Planning and Natural Resources Conservation Officer Jose Berrios assess the damage to a beached sailboat on Princess Beach, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, November 3, 2017. Together with the EPA, DPNR and other agency partners, the Coast Guard is responding to active pollution and removing hazards from the harbors, waterways and shorelines of the U.S.V.I.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Paul Dragin

 

Deployed Reservist Petty Officer 2nd Class Ky Nguyen speaks to a boat owner during a vessel inspection.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Ky Nguyen, an electronic technician for the Gulf Strike Team, Mobile, Ala. (foreground), and Department of Planning and Natural Resources Conservation Officer Carlos Aloyo inspect vessels in Salt River Bay, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, November 2, 2017. Together with the EPA, DPNR and other agency partners, the Coast Guard is responding to active pollution and removing hazards from the harbors, waterways and shorelines of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Paul Dragin