Engineer proudly serves Corps, reflects on life in Vietnam

13 Oct 2006 | Cpl. Rose A. Muth

Growing up in communist Vietnam, then getting a fresh start in the United States at age 14, Cpl. Huynh D. Pham, facilities noncommissioned officer, Headquarters and Support Company, II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, II MEF, didn’t speak English but seemed to adjust to the American way of life rather quickly. Before joining the Marine Corps in his late 20s, Pham worked what he described as unfulfilling jobs, but always wanted to do his part to repay the United States for the help they provided for his home country.

“When I first came to the United States with my older sister, I spoke no English at all. I took English as a second language in high school and it helped me out in the long run,” Pham said. “Growing up in communist Vietnam was definitely different from the (United States), but when I first arrived here I had cousins to hang out with to keep my mind off being away from home. I joined the Boy Scouts and surfed a lot growing up in California. I just enjoyed being a teenager.”

Pham explained that Vietnam required teenage males to join the military at age 16. His mother did not want him to join the U.S. military after high school, remembering some of the tragic events that happened during the Vietnam War.

“When I was a teenager, I lived near a military base and always saw Marines and soldiers in uniform. I loved the way the uniforms looked and the confidence they had when they were wearing them,” Pham said. “I wanted to join the military when I graduated high school, but my mother didn’t want me to. I worked different jobs after high school, but I decided I wanted to do something better with my life. That’s when I decided to join the Marine Corps in 2003.”

Upon completion of the Basic Hygiene Equipment Operator Course, Marine Corps Engineer School, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Pham was assigned to H&S Co., to start his career in the operational forces. Since II MEF (Forward) was getting ready to take the lead in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Pham trained with most of the II MHG Marines to prepare for his first overseas deployment.

“During predeployment training, I got to shoot different types of weapons I’d never seen before I came in the Marine Corps. I liked being able to work with different Marines and learning all about different aspects of the Marine Corps,” Pham said. “I served a year in Iraq, and the experience was definitely eye-opening. The first four months I was in Iraq, I repaired water pipes and helped set up a water treatment plant. The last eight months, I worked at the plant making sure the Marines had enough clean water to do the simple daily routines like brushing their teeth.”

While deployed to Iraq, Pham said his faith helped keep his spirits high during the yearlong deployment. But knowing his mother was proud of him serving overseas made the thousands of miles apart seem like an inch.

“I read my Vietnamese Bible every day in Iraq, and the faith I had helped make me a stronger person during the deployment,” he said. “My mother didn’t understand at first why I joined the military or why I wanted to go overseas, but once I explained everything to her, she understood my decision and supported me 100 percent. She has my boot camp picture in a frame at work and always gets compliments about her son being in the Marine Corps. It makes me feel proud to know that she is with me every step of my career.”

Returning from Iraq with a newfound attitude of the Marine Corps, Pham hit the ground running, moving from his old section of combat engineers to logistics. Currently in charge of maintenance issues for all II MHG buildings, his hard work and dedication doesn’t go unnoticed by his bosses.

“Corporal Pham is an excellent Marine in my book. He is a hard worker who goes above and beyond to accomplish the tasks I assign him,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Dawn L. Dalton, embarkation officer, H&S Co. “He is an all around good Marine and the Corps thrives on leaders like him.”

During Pham’s liberty time, he enjoys riding his motorcycles, surfing and swimming in the ocean. Reflecting on the lifelong skills the Corps has taught him, Pham is now focusing his sights on setting up a successful career after getting out of the Marine Corps.

“All the opportunities the Marine Corps has provided for me will definitely help me once I get out and move on to a different phase of my life. I want to go back to college and maybe become a minister when I get out,” Pham said. “I love being a Marine. Boot camp was tough, but once you complete it, you feel like a different person. Joining the military was one of the things I’ve always wanted to do in my life. It’s just another check in the box to accomplishing my lifelong goals.”