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Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month 2014: Nhat-Hang Claire Duong

Office of Civil Rights
May 1, 2014


Date: 05/01/2014 Description: Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month 2014: Claire Duong - State Dept Image I am a strategic advisor in the HR Bureau – Office of Civil Service Human Resource Management. While I have been with the Department for less than one year, I have 20 years in the federal sector, with many of those years working in human resources (HR). What I love most about HR is that my work directly impacts the Department’s workforce.

I am a first-hand beneficiary of the Department’s diplomacy, policy, and intervention during the Vietnam conflict. My life changed on April 21, 1975 when my family was whisked away to the U.S. Embassy in Saigon where my father worked as a Defense Attaché. The embassy was filled with other families like ours. We waited for what seemed like an eternity until they separated the women & children from the men. My mother, my sister, and I boarded a very hot, stuffy, crowded, enclosed truck that was used to transport ice. I heard someone tell the women to keep their children very quiet, and then they shut the doors. The truck stealthily moved us through the city to the Tan Son Nhut airport where we were ordered to quickly board an enormous military aircraft. That was when we were reunited with my father, who, along with the other men, was already on the aircraft.

As a child, I did not understand the events surrounding me. I did not know that the U.S. Government was covertly evacuating the families of locally employed staff who would be persecuted by the communist regime when the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam. Nor, did I grasp the enormity of what was happening.

We stayed on a military base in Guam for about two weeks, sleeping on cots that filled a gym. I had American food for the first time and played with other refugee children. One day, we were gathered outdoors to watch a news broadcast shown on a big screen at the drive-in. I saw horrific images of utter chaos in Vietnam. People were trampling over each other, climbing fences, running through streets, trying to board a helicopter. My mother told me that we will never be going home again. South Vietnam had fallen under communist control. It was April 30, 1975, a day I will forever remember because of those images on the big screen.

My family settled in America shortly thereafter. The first several years were difficult as I learned a new language via total immersion (there was no ESL back then) and adjusted every aspects of my life. But, I quickly fell in love with the American culture and embraced the free-spirited American way of life. I love that in America, every individual, regardless of status, race, or ethnicity, has the opportunity to succeed and pursue his/her dreams. And, every person is valued and respected for his/her individuality and unique talents.

I went on to earn a bachelor of science in industrial engineering and operations research from Virginia Tech and pursued my dreams. I knew without a doubt that I wanted to work for either the Department of Defense (DoD) or the Department of State (DoS) as a small way to give back. I spent the first 20 years of my career at DoD, and last March, joined the State Department. As I walk the halls of State, I am reminded of the important work that DoS employees do every day. My story is evidence that American diplomacy touches the lives of people everywhere, and State Department employees really DO make a difference!

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