Col. Viet Xuan Luong has made history by becoming the first Vietnamese-American to be promoted to the rank of general in the US Army. The promotion ceremony took place on August 6th at Fort Hood, Texas, where hundreds gathered to celebrate the pinning of the Brigadier General’s first star.
Luong came to the US as a 9-year-old with his parents and seven sisters in 1975, a day before the fall of Saigon. After briefly living in Arkansas after the initial relocation, he and his family eventually chose to settle in Los Angeles, close to the University of Southern California where Luong would later attend college. Upon graduating, Luong joined the army, inspired by his father who had served in the Vietnamese Marine Corps and, as Luong puts it, has been “the biggest influencer in [his] life.”
Luong attributes his family’s unrivaled patriotism to his immigrant experience. As he stated, “There’s a sense of service, for me, to be able to give back to our nation for all the opportunities it’s given us, saving us from harm’s way but also the opportunity to assimilate and move up through education.”
Since joining the army, Luong has held several command positions, including the 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers in Iraq and the 101st Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team in Afghanistan. During his nearly three decades of military service, Luong’s experiences under command have been the most challenging. As he stated, “I’ve lost so many soldiers, and that has always been a part of what the future has in store for me, in trying to really get people to understand that freedom comes at a pretty high price. For us who’ve lost troops in combat, it’s very personal.” In addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, Luong has also been deployed to Kosovo and Bosnia. He will be heading back to Afghanistan later this year.
General Luong is now part of a small list of Asian-Americans that have been awarded high ranks in the US military. The first Asian-American in US history to reach the rank of general was Albert Lyman, who commanded the 32nd army division that fought in the Philippines in WWII. Four-star general and former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki achieved the highest ever ranking by an Asian-American. The highest rank achieved among female Asian-Americans was by Air Force Major General Sharon K.G. Dunbar. Asian-Americans have been serving in the US military since the War of 1812.
According to a military demographics report published by the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense in 2012, 51,382 Asian-Americans serve in the military as active duty members, comprising 3.7% of all active duty troops, and 4.3% of all officers are Asian-American, at 10,291 people. Although this may appear low, Asian-Americans only make up 5.8% of the US population, and enlistment rates for Asian-Americans have been rising in recent years. In 2009, for instance, Asian-American recruitment rates for the US Marine Corp increased by 80% in Los Angeles. Last May during Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, the Corps launched an ad campaign that featured insights from Asian-American officers like First Lieutenant David Pham. In 2010, Asian-Americans in New York City and San Francisco made up 14% and 42% of new army recruits, respectively, much higher than the actual composition of each city’s Asian-American population. As role models like General Luong continue to rise through the ranks, enlistment rates for Asian-Americans will likely follow suit.
Andy Nguyen is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a graduate student at Georgetown University.