Major Ty Nguyen-Reed is the oldest of 4 siblings. With her parents, brother and 2 uncles they escaped by boat to Thailand, onto a refugee camp in the Philippines and then finally to America. Ty grew up appreciating and respecting the opportunities her parents provided them. She grew up in Ft. Worth, Texas. Ty is a Major in the U.S. She’s one of a handful of Vietnamese-American female officers.
Nguyen-Reed has served the U.S. Army for 9 years and was recently recognized on Oprah for her work as an American soldier.
A graduate of Illinois Institute of Technology in 1999 with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering, Nguyen-Reed was commissioned into the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant. As of March 2009, she served three tours in Iraq and out of the 32 months, 27 of them were served as a company commander of logistics and combat power to the brigade.
While in Iraq, Nguyen-Reed developed district-wide summer soccer tournaments for about 10,000 youths to facilitate reconciliation among sects of Iraq society in order to give a sense of security, normality and empowerment to the local population in southern Baghdad. This resulted in 900 soccer games played, organized by local government and community leaders and various sects of Iraqi society.
She also established women vocational training projects, such as sewing, beautician set skills and literacy training for Iraqi women. A partnership with a non-profit organization called A Model Teacher Organization allowed Reed to educate Iraqi women on domestic violence and venereal disease prevention. Months before her last (third) tour in Iraq, she founded JANAN Collection to promote and preserve Iraqi artistic tradition and to employ and empower the Iraqi women. She currently resides in Kansas City and is married to Major Eric. S. Reed.
The values that my culture ingrained in me permits me to excel in my career—perseverance, hard work, a strong belief in yourself and that you belong to a community.
ASIANCE: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to the United States?
Ty: I was born in Vietnam. When I was around four-years old, my parents, two uncles, a brother, and I left the country under the cover of darkness. My dad navigated the small boat into the Gulf of Thailand using the stars. Before we reached Thailand, pirates intercepted our boat and badly beat my father, robbed passengers’ possession, and raped and killed some of the passengers. When the pirates were tired of us, they let us go. Luckily, we landed in Thailand. We spent some time in a refugee camp in Thailand and then, we moved to the Philippines. About a year later, we were sponsored by an American family and were admitted to the U.S.
I’ve lived in Jersey City, NJ, DeKalb and Aurora, Illinois and finally settled in Haltom City, Texas. I consider Texas my home state. (Texans are proud and independent.) I graduated from Haltom High School and took a Junior Reserved Officer Training Course (JROTC) as an elective. I liked it. In my senior year in high school, I applied for an Army scholarship and got it. I went to Illinois Institute of Technology on an Army scholarship and graduated with a Chemical Engineering degree. Now, I am working on my Masters—an MBA.
ASIANCE: How and what do you incorporate of your culture into your daily life?
Ty: I consider my heritage an integral part of my daily life. I celebrate holidays that are uniquely Vietnamese and cook the dishes I grew up on – such as pho and braised catfish—which I loved. The values that my culture ingrained in me permits me to excel in my career—perseverance, hard work, a strong belief in yourself and that you belong to a community.
ASIANCE: What led you to a job in the Army?
Ty: I was a tomboy. I grew up with mostly my male cousins—so I had to be a bit bossy around them. If not, they would ignore me. I was always a very competitive person, not your typical docile Asian girl…I loved sports—especially running. When I was in high school, I thought about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life… I knew that I didn’t want to work a 9-to-5 job. I wanted to lead people and make a difference. I wanted to do something that was active—not sitting at a desk all day. I thought the Army would be a great fit for me and I didn’t have to pay for college…even better.
ASIANCE: Can you describe your job and what is a typical day like for you?
Ty: When I am at a training site, by six o’clock in morning, I am running. During my run, I think about the day and the tasks that need to be accomplished. After a four mile run, I do some abdominal and polymeric exercises. Then I report to the training site. At the training site, on day one I teach a brigade staff how to incorporate information operations in their plan and how to effectively implement it. For the next two weeks, I observe the brigade staff and give them recommendations on methods to improve their information operation plan.
Sometimes I will be coaching a person in the brigade staff through the information operation planning process. About an hour before the day ends, I meet with my team and discuss how the training audience is doing and how we can help them improve for the next day. My day ends around eight in the evening. Most of the training audiences will be either deploying to Afghanistan or Iraq within six months. Generally, I am away from home 15 days per month.
ASIANCE: How do your juggle family and career?
Ty: I talk to my husband every day on the phone when I am away. Honest and constant communication is key to feel connected. When I am home, I spend my free time with Eric, my husband. We do things together. We exercised today and walked around the block after dinner. I have just finished command. This is an opportunity for us to have children. We would like to have a child during this period in our life. To do very well and have meaning in a career, some family planning is needed. We are in a much better position now—financially and relationship-wise. I wanted some time to ourselves before children come into the picture. I believed there’s a time and place for everything. When I am at work, I make work a priority. When I am home, I make my family a priority. My priority has always been family and then work.
ASIANCE: Tell us about your life in Iraq?
Ty: I have been to Iraq three times in about 36 months. Each time was different. Each time I learned something about the situation, others, and myself. Each time was difficult but I would not trade the experiences. I am humbled by the experiences. After three tours in Iraq, I saw the world very differently. I felt we, Americans, are very fortunate and blessed. I have been stationed at Ft. Riley, Kansas, Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, and Ft. Hood, Texas. I have seen South Korea and hopefully I get a chance to make a difference in Afghanistan.
ASIANCE: What is next in your career? Where would you like to go?
Ty: My next career step is being a battalion commander. Hopefully, my family supports it. Every decision in the Army must be supported by my family. If my husband does not support it, then I must reconsider because he will be making sacrifices too. I would like to command a battalion at Ft. Hood, Texas—close to my parents.
ASIANCE: How many other Asian American and/or Vietnamese American officers are there in the Army?
Ty: I do not know that number but the number is very small. In my career, I have only talked to two other male Vietnamese Army officers. I think there is about a handful of Vietnamese American women officers from Lieutenant to Lieutenant Colonel. I know that Asian Americans make up about less than 3% of the Army that includes officers and enlisted.
ASIANCE: How can other girls get hired by the Army if they wanted to?
Ty: There are two ways to be an officer in the Army. One way is to go to college and enroll in Reserved Officer Training Course (ROTC). I recommend interested parties to talk to an ROTC recruiter at a local college. He or she will have to provide that person more information. The alternative route is to enlist in the Army as an enlisted soldier and enroll in college through the GI bill. After you earn 60 hours of college credits, you can enroll in Officer Candidate School.
ASIANCE: What do you like to do in your free time?
Ty: When I am not working, I love to read. I am really into fashion. I like to explore the world such as going hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains. My interests are all over the place.
ASIANCE: If you weren’t in the Army what would you be doing?
Ty: I see myself as a senior chemical engineer leading a group of engineers or running a company.