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Vietnam by blood, Air Force in heart

Lt. Col. An Duong, the 28th Medical Group chief of aerospace medicine, sits with her family in their home in Ohio in 2014. Duong was born in Vietnam, but moved to the United States and became a medical professional before commissioning into the Air Force. (Courtesy photo)

Lt. Col. An Duong, the 28th Medical Group chief of aerospace medicine, sits with her family in their home in Ohio in 2014. Duong was born in Vietnam, but moved to the United States and became a medical professional before commissioning into the Air Force. (Courtesy photo)

Lt. Col. An Duong, the 28th Medical Group chief of aerospace medicine, is pinned on by her husband, Army Col. Steven Roemhildt, Nov. 16, 2012. Duong was born in Vietnam, but moved to the United States and became a medical professional before commissioning into the Air Force. (Courtesy photo)

Lt. Col. An Duong, the 28th Medical Group chief of aerospace medicine, is pinned on by her husband, Army Col. Steven Roemhildt, Nov. 16, 2012. Duong was born in Vietnam, but moved to the United States and became a medical professional before commissioning into the Air Force. (Courtesy photo)

Lt. Col. An Duong, the 28th Medical Group chief of aerospace medicine, poses for a photo at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., May 30, 2018. Duong was born in Vietnam, but moved to the United States and became a medical professional before commissioning into the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Nicolas Z. Erwin)

Lt. Col. An Duong, the 28th Medical Group chief of aerospace medicine, poses for a photo at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., May 30, 2018. Duong was born in Vietnam, but moved to the United States and became a medical professional before commissioning into the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Nicolas Z. Erwin)

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- An old idiom goes ‘home is where the heart is,’ for a 28th Medical Group lieutenant colonel, that saying couldn’t be truer.

Lt. Col. An Duong, the 28th Medical Group chief of aerospace medicine, is Vietnamese by birth and Air Force in heart.

“I was born in what was formerly, Saigon, Vietnam,” Duong explained. “My dad was taken as a political prisoner and imprisoned after the [Vietnam] War.”

Duong described how her mother secured his release and how her family left Vietnam. There were no easy avenues for them to go through back in those post-war years, so her father became a “boat person,” someone who attempts to travel to another country by means of overcrowded rafts that tended to sink or be raided by pirates on their journey. He made it to Malaysia and then to the United States.

“Escaping by boat was dangerous,” she explained. “About half of the boats didn’t make it anywhere, and that’s why my father went with just his oldest child. They then brought the rest of the family over through immigration.”

The transition was hard for the teenage Duong, but not impossible. After completing high school, she attended Columbia Medical School in Missouri and began working in private practice.

“I wasn’t a brilliant student,” Duong mused. “I strive to be useful. Every job helps someone in its own way, I could not be a good electrician but I could be a good family doctor.”

After a few years and caring for thousands of patients, one chance meeting changed both Duong’s life and her career track.

“When I was in private practice, I was working with a military veteran and he said ‘Doc, you’d be really good in the military. You’d do well for the troops,’” Duong explained. “I think back to that a lot. He gave me the right advice.”

It isn’t just a past experience lead her down the military path, Duong’s peers also feel the same way in the present.

Jessica Le, the 28th Medical Operations Squadron public health flight chief, explained there are two important descriptors for the soon-to-be colonel: the first is Duong’s job proficiency. The second was a physical attribute that makes her noticeable – her height.

“She’s short,” Le joked, while she thought about the bond she shared with her superior, mentor and, most importantly, her friend. “She really is the saying ‘tiny but mighty.’”

The lieutenant colonel is more than just a leader, Le explained. She has the ability to connect with people.

“She’s always working,” Le said. “Whether it’s 5:30 at night or when someone just asks her for a little advice when their kid is sick, she always goes 110 percent. There was a time my kid wasn’t feeling well, and I just asked what I should do; she immediately told me to bring my kid in, and did a checkup on him. She might have been the busiest lady that day, but she didn’t even hesitate to help.”

Duong doesn’t just work to help people. She works to improve herself in any way possible, and that includes giving briefings. One of the biggest obstacles Duong had to climb in her career was communicating in her non-native language.

“In the military, one is expected to give presentations or briefs much more than on the civilian side,” Duong explained. “It’s a struggle for me to give briefings since English is my second language. Thankfully, the military is a wonderful melting pot and everyone is quite understanding when they hear an accent.”

Le mentioned that Duong really helps bring together the 28th Medical Group by always being in the moment, eyeing the future and never looking back.

“Home is wherever the Air Force takes me and my family,” Duong said. “I may be from Vietnam, but the Air Force took me in and made me the best I can be.”

To Duong, it doesn’t matter where she was born. What matters is being with the U. S. Air Force and contributing to “keeping the Air Force flying well.”

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