Sunday, December 19, 2010

Remarks by Lieutenant Colonel Tuan T. Ton, U.S. Army at VVA's Holiday Reception

Reception hosted by the Voice of Vietnamese Americans (VVA)
Present Restaurant, Falls Church, Virginia
December 18, 2010

Remarks by Lieutenant Colonel Tuan T. Ton, U.S. Army

• Good afternoon everyone. It is truly a pleasure for me to speak today to such a diverse and distinguished group. I am grateful for the leadership of Ms. Genie Nguyen who, I am sure, went out of her way in many aspects to organize this wonderful and meaningful reception.

• I must admit that when I called Ms. Genie a few days ago and asked her to describe for me who will be coming to today’s reception, she replied: “well, most of them are younger than you.” So the first thing that came to my mind was that “what is wrong with these young people? It is Saturday and don’t they have a better place to be?” But I was dead wrong.

• The fact that you are here tells me at least one thing – you want to be here. If I had to make a guess, I would say because you have decided to take part in something that is bigger than yourselves. And if I could guess one more time, I would say that you, each of you in your own way and capacity, have committed to make a difference for the community we are living in today.

• Am I right so far?

• Well, it did not take long for me to find out who you are after talking with a few folks in the area and browsing through your website. It came to my understanding that Voice of Vietnamese Americans (VVA) members and volunteers have served the community in many aspects but if I may just to highlight a few examples of your civic engagement as we are celebrating today’s gathering.

o The support for Census 2010, under the leadership of Vel Hernandez and Vân Anh, was actively promoted, not only within the Vietnamese American community but also with the communities of Latino, Korean, Chinese, just to name a few.

o Nhiên, Miss Eden Pageant 2009, who contributed in many events such as the July 4th parades right on our capital’s Constitution Avenue, Tết Trung Thu for the children, and promoting civic engagement in young professionals.

o Vel Hernandez has successfully advocated for the rights and proper compensation for the Vietnamese export workers at an American company in Malaysia.

o Mr. Hoan Đặng, who has a 25 years record of leading non-profit organizations, recently decided to resign from a very high pay job to pursue a new career in public service.

o Many of you have volunteered in voter registration since 2008 through phone banking and canvassing, and even making personal visits to pagodas and churches. You also reached out to the Vietnamese Student Associations at various universities and colleges.

o Many of you are involved with Foreclosure Preventions, Health Fair, and Job Fair where the benefits carried far beyond the boundary of serving the Vietnamese American community. That is the true spirit of civic engagement.

• There are so many more contributions, all made by many of you and the list can easily go on and on. With that, I am truly delighted to have this opportunity to thank you in person for what you are doing for our community, and for every act of compassion you have served to make a better world for us all. So, I say “thank you” for making a difference.

• Although many of us have grown up in different parts of the world, we were raised in different environments, came from different backgrounds, our journeys all led us to here today because we all have one trait in common – selfless service – serving to make the community a better place for all.

• We should always cherish our distinguished Vietnamese heritage because the intangible legacies of our ancestors will never fade away. The distinctive attributes of our Vietnamese heritage will continue to shine upon generations by its unique culture and traditions and those, my friends, give us a distinct uniqueness.

• In great nation, we value hard work through determination, we humble with our successes and cross-culture aspirations, and we enjoy our rewards by sharing that success with others for the benefit of their own. Indeed, we should never stop at just being an American, because America has given us, each one of us, so much that none of us can ever pay back in full. We, however, certainly can repay one step at time by the contributions we make.

• So, why civic engagement? In civic engagement, we help to foster the community that reflects the perspectives of a promising society, through shared values and creating opportunities, for those that, one day, will travel the paths better than ours. We should make every effort to make the place we came, a better place than when we found it – making America a better place for all. And to me, that is what civic engagement all about.

• I want to tell you a quick story, an observation rather, about Potato, Egg and Coffee Bean. I am sure you have seen these three things before and I hope you will think differently about them the next time you see them again.

o When you place a potato into hot water, the hot water will cook potato and make it softer. The longer you keep the potato in the hot water, the softer it will be.

o In contrast, when you place an egg into hot water, the hot water will make the soft part inside of the egg harder.

o Well, unlike the Potato and the Egg, where the environment had changed both of their characteristics, the coffee beans, on the other hand, when put into the hot water, the coffee beans will change the hot water to something else – coffee as we know it. The tough hot water now produced a better smell, a delicious flavor, and more valuable. The coffee beans did not let the environment change their characteristics, but instead the coffee beans stood strong and made a difference.

• In closing, whether you were born in Vietnam, in America, or elsewhere, you are now part of this grateful nation. A nation that you can look upon and say with pride: “I am an American!” I want to assure you that our beloved America, land of the free and home of the brave, will continue to prosper and always serve as an icon of compassion and humanity for the world as long as we never run out of dedicated, energetic and selfless-service individuals like you – “the coffee beans” of today for tomorrow.

• Thank you very much. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Lieutenant Colonel Tuan T. Ton, U.S. Army
Military Advisor
Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP)
Department of State

LTC Ton has been serving as Military Advisor for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Department of State, since September 2009. In this capacity, he is responsible for a wide range of political-military affairs including State-Defense interface, defense policy issues, security cooperation, foreign military assistance, and license for export of defense articles that support the overarching U.S. foreign policy objectives.

LTC Ton was born in Vietnam and immigrated to the United States in 1977 under political refugee status, commonly referred to as “boat person.” After graduating from Southeastern Oklahoma State University, he pursued his dream of military service and eventually enlisted in the Army as an Infantryman in 1986 and subsequently served with the 1st Battalion 30th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division in Schweinfurt, Germany.

Following his commission as an Infantry officer in 1989, LTC Ton served in various positions with 2nd Battalion 187th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) including participation in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm as a Platoon Leader. During his next assignment with 1st Battalion 5th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, he was responsible for the logistics of his battalion while deployed on 48 hours notice to Kuwait for Operation Intrinsic Action in response to aggressive actions by Iraq, and he later commanded C Company and Headquarters and Headquarters Company.

After earning the Foreign Area Officer qualification, LTC Ton served as the Country Director for U.S. Pacific Command directing the effort to develop the military relations and security cooperation with Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. He then became a Policy Advisor to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs leading the formulation of U.S. national policy for personnel recovery and overseeing the Department of Defense’s active involvement in national civil search and rescue and crisis response.

Prior to his current assignment, LTC Ton participated in Operation Enduring Freedom serving as the U.S. Forces Afghanistan Liaison Officer to U.S. Embassy Islamabad and Pakistan’s Army Headquarters synchronizing the combined effort along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Some of his awards and decorations included the Bronze Star Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal with 2nd Oak Leaf, Meritorious Service Medal, Department of State Meritorious Honor Award, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, NATO Medal, Ranger Tab, Parachute Badge, Air Assault Badge, Combat Infantryman Badge, and Office of the Secretary of Defense Badge.

LTC Ton received a Master of Art in National Security Affairs from the Naval Postgraduate School and is fluent in Vietnamese. He is also a graduate from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. LTC Ton is married to his college sweetheart, Thu-Ha, and they have Andrew, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and Stephanie, a junior at the University of Houston in Texas.


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