3rd ID Field Artillery CSM makes a difference in his Soldiers' lives
June 18, 2010
<b>FORWARD OPERATING BASE MAREZ, Iraq</b> - The Vietnam War had a tremendous impact on the lives of many people, especially following the fall of Saigon in April 1975. In particular, the war impacted Command Sgt. Maj. Hai Dang and his Family, who immigrated to the U.S. following the war's end.
Along with an estimated 1.4 million refugees who resettled to the United States, was the command sergeant major of 1st Battalion, 9th Field Artillery, Command Sgt. Maj. Dang. He came with his mother, sister, two brothers, and three aunts. Life in a new country wasn't easy and brought with it many things that took getting used to.
"One of the first American foods I had was a McDonald's hamburger. I thought it was amazing," said Command Sgt. Maj. Dang, an Oxnard, Calif., resident. "Something that came out of a wrapper with no preparation needed, and you just stick it in your mouth and eat it. I thought it was wonderful!"
After arriving to the U.S., it took a while for him and his Family to adjust to the change in culture and their new way of life. It was immediately following the war and life for immigrants, particularly the Vietnamese, wasn't easy.
"We looked and acted like refugees. I remember stepping in front of the automatic door at the supermarket and getting spooked when it would stay open. I remember seeing all the vegetables neatly stacked. It wasn't like an open market in Vietnam with flies and dirt; it was nice and clean," he said.
Command Sergeant Major Dang said his decision to join the Army was the best one he made, although his mother was against the idea. Memories of American Soldiers in his homeland helped make his decision.
"I remember the American Soldiers in Saigon where I would do various work for them. They were big, powerful men in uniform that wielded authority," Command Sgt. Maj. Dang said. "Once in a while, I would get lucky, and they would give me a dollar. Back in those days I could buy a lot of stuff with a dollar.
"That memory helped me decide what I wanted to be," he said. "It was a sense of duty, a sense of giving back. I'm the only member of my Family to join the military. I wanted to be an American and the quickest way to citizenship was by being a Soldier."
Not only did he fulfill his dream of becoming an American citizen during his 27 years in the Army, but his decision to join the Army has given him more opportunities than he imagined.
"From my perspective, I get paid for everything: I get clothes; I get fed; I've seen more of the world than all my Family combined; I get a chance to experience more than my Family can imagine," Command Sgt. Maj. Dang said. "That was the best decision I could possibly make for myself."
There have been many high points during his years in service - from the first time he put on a uniform at basic training in Fort Sill, Okla.; to when he became a sergeant; to when he trained Soldiers as a drill sergeant; to when he graduated from Recondo School. But the event that stands out in his mind is becoming a howitzer section chief.
"That's the first time I was really in charge of Soldiers," Command Sgt. Maj. Dang said. "There is something about being a first-line supervisor, where he makes a difference in whether the section succeeds, does poorly, or is able to meet the mission. He determines whether the Soldiers get chaptered out, or are able to make the rank of command sergeant major.
"That's where the rubber meets the road. It's an opportunity to make a difference," he said.
"I cannot imagine what I would be doing if I were still in Vietnam. But it definitely would not be as rewarding as being in charge of a battalion of 514 Soldiers and making a difference in the lives of those Soldiers," he said.
Last year Command Sgt. Maj. Dang had a chance to visit his Family, some of whom he hadn't seen since 1975. Most importantly, he visited the graves of his grandmother and grandfather. Vietnam has changed a lot since he left, but there are things that still remain.
"The big bomb crater is still there, but it's covered by foliage and filled with water," he said. "Although the physical hole is still there, time has allowed the foliage to cover it up."
"Although America is my home, there is still a Vietnam inside me where I feel a welcome when I go back," he said. "If you ask any Asian-American, they will say, 'I am an American.' If they were born in their homeland, you will never take that part of them out. There is a memory of what life used to be that will be with them forever."
Following his deployment to Iraq, Command Sgt. Maj. Dang plans to get an assignment where he can transition and eventually retire. His goal is to give 30 years of service to his naturalized country.