Each year on November 11, we celebrate Veterans Day, a federal holiday honoring those who have served in the United States Armed Forces. To mark the occasion, the Partnership for a New American Economy released a new report that evaluates the number of immigrants who have made the ultimate sacrifice: giving their lives in service on America’s battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. The study finds that in these post-9/11 conflicts, 284 of the 6,810 military causalities were foreign-born service members. This group of soldiers came from across the globe, representing 68 different countries.
Army Sergeant First Class Tung Nguyen is one of the many valiant immigrant soldiers who died advancing the country’s national security interests. Born in South Vietnam, Nguyen was raised in a family with a tradition of military service and grew up surrounded by stories of the soldiers in his family who fought against communist forces during the Vietnam War. When Nguyen was just 11 years old, his mother sent him to the United States to seek refuge from their war-torn home country.
Upon his arrival to America, Nguyen settled with an adopted family in Tracy, California. After graduating from high school, he decided to pursue a career in the armed forces. A skilled soldier, Nguyen was an important asset to his battalion and a leader among his fellow soldiers, and rose steadily through the ranks. In 1992, he earned a Green Beret—one of the greatest military honors—and became a member of the U.S. Army Special Forces.
In 2006, while stationed in Baghdad, Sergeant Nguyen was killed during a small arms fire attack, just weeks before he was scheduled to return home to his family.
In many ways, Nguyen’s path is similar to that of other soldiers in the United States Armed Forces; following a call to serve, he joined what is heralded as one of the greatest military forces in the world. His story, however, is unique in that America was not the first country he called home and, in this sense, his is a story specific to a brave few.
In recent years, the demand for foreign-born military personnel has risen steadily. Officials in the armed forces are pleading with Congress to allow them to accept service members from diverse backgrounds, who possess the specialized language and vocational skills they desperately need abroad. For those who choose to serve in the military, the reward has often been a path to citizenship for themselves and their family. Since 2001, over 100,000 brave foreign-born soldiers have been awarded citizenship, with a hundred gaining this posthumously.
While foreign-born soldiers have always been part of the tiny fraction of our population that dedicate their lives to protecting us, this contribution has often gone unnoticed. On Veterans Day this year, the Partnership’s new report shines a light on this special contribution, honoring the fallen immigrant soldiers who gave their life to protect Americans at home and abroad.