Okinawa Army Sergeant overcomes all odds for bright future

By Brian LamarSeptember 8, 2023

Okinawa Army Sergeant overcomes all odds for bright future
Col. Ned Holt, commanding officer for the 10th Support Group promotes Staff Sgt. Kwa Win during a promotion ceremony on April 23, 2023, at Torii Station. (Photo Credit: Brian Lamar) VIEW ORIGINAL

Doo Doo Kyi stared off into the distance with furrowed eyebrows as he leaned in the doorway of his house.

His mind was full with worry about his family’s safety. He could hear the coos of his newborn son (Kwa Win) behind him as his wife swaddled him in a blanket. Kyi had just heard the news of another village nearby that was burned to the ground and the residents were either butchered or enslaved by the Burmese Government.

Kyi hatched a plan to relocate to a border town between Myanmar and Thailand to escape the constant threat to his family’s safety. Over the following years, the conflict continued to creep closer to their new home. Kyi had no choice but to apply for admission for his family to the Mae La refugee camp in Thailand. To get to the camp, Win’s family traveled on foot through dense jungle mountains through hostile territory. They could only take what they could carry as they forded the Moei River, which was the natural boundary along the Thai border that would provide them a chance to escape from the deadly ethnic cleansing. Once they reached the Thai border, they were accepted into the camp.

Growing up in the refugee camp, opportunities were in short supply, but the youthful Win knew to take advantage of every opportunity in his path, no matter how daunting or meager. Win worked hard to learn English and to receive a basic education from Dr. Helen Hall, an Australian missionary that volunteered to run a school in the camp that he walked to each day.

Young Kwa Win’s first memories are of his surroundings in the Mae La refugee camp. Shortly after Win’s 22nd birthday, he lay awake with stress and anxiety while staring up at his bamboo and leaf-thatched roof. For his entire life, he had never been beyond the walls surrounding the Mae La refugee camp for displaced Karen people in Tak Province. The next day he would leave that camp for the first time and fly to an unknown place called Minnesota, thanks to a relocation program sponsored by the United Nations and the U.S. State Department.

A whole new world was forming before his eyes as his plane touched down in the land of the free. For the first time, Win saw endless opportunities for his future and he planned to grab as many as he could. Immediately, he took jobs in factories, farms and automotive centers. He found an aptitude for mechanical things and attended community college for automotive mechanics. After a while, Win attempted to join the military after seeing a flier on the wall at school. On his first attempt, he wasn’t accepted due to his lack of education credentials.

“I went to the recruiter and they told me that I didn’t qualify,” he remembered. “My education level was not good enough. They sent me away, but I realized what I needed to do. I had a goal in mind”.

Win worked during the day, continued his studies and took GED classes at night. Win would hurdle yet another obstacle and join the U.S. Army to eventually become a valued member of the 10th Support Group in Okinawa, Japan.

Once Win finished his diploma in night school, he walked the several miles back to the recruiter's office with his document in hand in 2013. The recruiter started the interview process. Two weeks later, he was shipped off to the military entrance processing station. He barely passed his ASVAB and only a few jobs were available to him due to his low scores. Again, Win seized opportunity in the midst of adversity. He selected petroleum supply specialist and was sent to Fort Jackson, South Carolina for basic training. Win was on his way, but again worried about the odds facing him as his drill sergeant barked orders that he didn’t understand with his limited English skills.

“I was worried about my language skills, but I had some battle buddies in basic training that took care of me. My team helped me through those tough times,” Win said.

Win, realizing he was fighting an uphill battle to learn everything he needed on the tight training schedule, decided to take matters into his own hands.

“After everyone was asleep, I would stay up half the night every night studying the smart book they issued us. I used the red lens on my flashlight and covered my head with my wool blanket until past midnight each night so I could keep up with everything I needed to learn,” Win said.

Win eventually graduated and continued to his schoolhouse where hard work, discipline and determination kept him on his path of success. More than a decade after arriving to the U.S., recently promoted Staff Sgt. Kwa Win now finds himself working as a respected leader in the 10th SG.

“Every day I am grateful and thankful for the opportunities afforded to me and my family. I am thankful for my career in the Army which has helped me build a life for my family. It was a long road to get to this point,” said Staff Sgt. Kwa Win, a petroleum supply specialist and driver for the 10th Support Group command team. “When I was young, I was always looking for opportunities. There weren’t many opportunities, but I made sure to take advantage of the few that I found,” said Win.

According to Win, he plans to continue serving until he can retire. He enjoys the benefits and job security of the Army and enjoys the opportunity to travel. He would like to see his children join the military and says his big goal now is to be a good example for his four kids to help them set up their future.

Soon, Win will transfer to his new assignment to Fort Riley, Kansas where he is looking for new opportunities and bigger challenges.

"Every duty station is an adventure. I am not a picky person. I love to work in the motor pool and do my actual job. My favorite place was Fort Bragg out in the field. One of my biggest challenges is balancing my work with my family life. I love my family and they support me no matter what,” said Win.