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Tommy and Atlas 2.CR2

Officer Nguyen and
K-9 Atlas

Officer Nguyen came to the Tarpon Springs Police Department in 2008. His dedication and enthusiasm have already earned him a Police Commendation and a position as a K9 Officer. The difficult circumstances that led him to the United States are poignant as well as inspiring.

His is a story of extreme courage, perseverance and loyalty. Read more about Officer Nguyen's incredible journey and why TSPD is proud to call him a member of its team.

Interview with Officer Nguyen

Question: Officer Nguyen, you left South Vietnam during a very turbulent time. Can you tell us about the circumstances of your departure from Vietnam?

Answer: My father was a high-ranking officer in the South Vietnamese military. After the war between South Vietnam and North Vietnam, the North Vietnamese government arrested my father along with other South Vietnamese soldiers and transported them to a concentration camp. My father spent eight years in the camp where he was tortured and treated badly before being released. When he returned to the village where we lived, he was not treated the same as other Vietnamese citizens because of his background. It was then that my father, along with others, secretly planned to flee Vietnam to Thailand by boat. I was fourteen years old at the time.

In 1990, my father and I, along with nineteen other Vietnamese people fled Vietnam for Thailand seeking political asylum. We arrived at a refugee camp in Thailand where we stayed for four years, waiting for government approval to enter in to the United States.

Question: Your father made a very courageous and daring decision to leave Vietnam. How difficult of a journey was it?

Answer: It was very hard for me and my father to leave Vietnam, but we had no other choice. It was a dark and rainy night when our group, which included women and children, escaped Vietnam in a small wooden boat. We spent three days and three nights on the ocean with very little food and water. It was my first time to ever see dolphins swimming alongside a boat, when pirates suddenly appeared and began chasing us. I prayed nothing would happen. Fortunately, they stopped and turned around. Twenty minutes later, another pirate boat came upon us. My father ordered all the women and children to hide. Again, they turned and went on their way.

Once we could see land, everyone was happy and we couldn't wait to get off the boat. We could see cars and bicycles on the roadway and Thai people everywhere. Two men in our group could speak a little Thai, so they decided to jump into the water and swim ashore to ask permission of the Thai authorities to land there. The authorities said we would have to travel another two miles south. Ten minutes later, a small boat with four men armed with AK-47's, began shooting at us. We believed they were pirates. One of the men in our group was shot in the face. We stopped and asked for help and were accepted into a refugee camp.

Question: How were the conditions of the refugee camp? Did you ever feel you'd made a mistake in leaving?

Answer: When we arrived, we were happy just to get off the boat, but then we saw the wall with barbed wire on top. It was scary because it looked like a big prison. There were about ten thousand Vietnamese and Cambodian people placed there. Thousands stood at the gate inside the barbed wire looking for family, friends or whoever lived in their village. There was not enough room and board for all of us. We slept outside under a hut without blankets or warm clothes. At night I was awakened by rain that flooded my spot and I had to sit on a mound of dirt. The next four years I stayed in a large house with three other people. It was difficult, but my father and I knew that one day we would be in America and life would be better.

We were fortunate to have passed the initial screening process for passage to the US, but others were not. In particular, I witnessed a young woman hang herself because she thought she would be forced to return to Vietnam. She had nothing left in Vietnam - no home, no job and her parents had passed away. Thousands of Vietnamese people died on the ocean - lost at sea or because of pirates. People would pay or do anything to get to America, just for FREEDOM.

Question: How did you arrive at your decision to pursue a career in law enforcement?

Answer: When my father and I arrived in the United States, we did not have any plans, but my father wanted me to continue my education. When I finished High School I wanted to join the military, but my father had only one son here with him so I decided to be a police officer where I could help others. I know many older Vietnamese people who can't speak English and I wanted to help them and my community.

Question: As someone who has left their own country to start anew, what does it mean to you to now call the United States your home?

Answer: I left Vietnam when I was fourteen; I arrived in the United States when I was eighteen. I spoke no English and was without money and had no friends or relatives here. Now, I have a lovely wife, Lynda; my beautiful daughter, Natalie and the coolest son, Benjamin. I also brought my mother to the United States in 2008. I have my dream job and a beautiful family. There is no other country in the world, or place in Vietnam where the happiness I have now could be equaled.

Question: Is there anything about living in the United States that you feel is particularly important for our youth to understand?

Answer: Education is the key to success. You must always work hard and be passionate about what you do. Never take anything for granted and respect others. Whenever I have difficult times I look back at my years in the refugee camp, and know that I will make it through. The hard part has already been done. I had to do it all over again to have what I have now, I would. Freedom does not come free, for sure.

Question: Have you ever regretted leaving Vietnam? Do you think you will ever return?

Answer: I never regretted leaving Vietnam because I have accomplished a lot and fulfilled my dreams in this country. Vietnam is a communist country; I would never have become a police officer or accomplished what I have here. There is no freedom of speech or freedom of religion. I'm so happy and grateful to call America my country and my home.

I will go back to Vietnam to visit my brothers and my father's gravesite, but I would never go back there to call it home again, unless Vietnam were to become a democratic country

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