You attended and studied at a law school. However, while most law school students across the United States are keen to begin their careers in the legal field, you chose another path, which was to serve in the U.S. military. Can you divulge the details and rationale behind your decision?
Before I graduated Law School in 2002, the tragic terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 happened to the United States. I was a law school student at Touro Law Center and also a volunteer Auxiliary Police Officer with the New York City Police Department.
I had classes at law school and I was on schedule to volunteer for duty walking and car patrolling areas in Queens, New York.
I reflected at times, on my own families plight having to leave Vietnam after April 30, 1975, due to the end of the war because of differences of ideology on the future of a united Vietnam under a one-party political system.
I personally felt in my heart that the United States needed to take the battle and fight all the enemies of the United States.
In 2002, holding the position of a lawyer in the the legal department of the Army, you chose to volunteer in Iraq to serve as a military advisor to the Iraqi Army. What motivated you to choose such a dangerous job?
While I was in law school, I was assigned to U.S. Army Cadet Command on an educational delay as a Lieutenant. After my graduation from law school, I took the New York Bar Exam to get my license to practice law, but missed the passing grade by 30 points. In order for me to be assigned as an Attorney in the U.S. Army, I would have had to take the bar exam a second time and if passing it, then apply to the Judge Advocate General to be selected to serve as a Attorney in the U.S. Army.
I wanted to help the Iraqi & Afghan people that were living under repressive governments so they can having a democracy that prevent any further attacks on the United States. But, I felt that with my young age and my strong fitness of sound mind and body, I could be a better asset to the United States as a Airborne Infantry Officer.
My father, John W. Peterkin, volunteered for 2 years to serve as an Infantry Officer in the Vietnam War and was a Military Advisor to the South Vietnamese Army. My grandfather Thạch Uội and Great Uncle (Ông Út) served in the French military of Indochine and fought in a tank unit against the Viet Minh.
Can you tell the readers of My Viet Magazine about the 2 injuries you sustained while serving in Iraq?
On June 2006, I was riding in a Humvee in Baghdad when the vehicle exploded, while driving over a terrorist-planted Improvised Explosive Device (I.E.D.). The strength of that explosion lifted the Humvee more than two feet off the ground. I was treated by the medic and given pain medicine for the headaches and trauma.
On February 2007, I was walking with team, on our Iraqi Army base, then suddenly I heard an explosion. I woke up at Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad and was told that 3 12-foot-long Katyusha rockets had hit our base. One rocket landed twenty meters from where I was standing, blowing me unconscious to the ground.
In March 2009, the effects and complications of your injuries caused you to retire. What were your thoughts, and how did you process this situation as someone whose world had revolved around the Army?
I suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).My symptoms are headaches, nausea, fatigue, drowsiness, problems with speech, difficulty sleeping, memory loss, concentration problems, mood changes, dizziness, lost of appetite, and visual disturbances. I have to take over 20 pills everyday.
Due to my TBI, I am not able to take a bar exam to get a law license to practice law, so that has led to me to have severe depression.
It is known that your physical and mental condition continued to deteriorate after your retirement. How did you cope and what did you do to overcome those conditions?
The core foundations is my father, mother and being an American of Vietnamese heritage. The Vietnamese people as a whole, despite political differences, have endured many hardships and millions of lives have been lost. There are still struggles, to this day, even with a united Vietnam.
I think of my ancestors when I burn incense for them at home and I have to endure the pain and find inspiration and use instances in my life to keep me motivated to stay alive despite the mental and physical pain.
My service dog, Liz, helps me physically due to my neck, back and leg injuries.
Now, in present time, can you share the details of how your current life is now like?
I currently volunteer as the Public Affairs Officer of the the Royal Lao Airborne, under the leadership of the exiled Regent and Crown Prince of Laos. We provide military and civilian training for U.S. Military, State Defense Forces, military allies of the U.S. and qualified civilians, here in the United States.
The Royal Lao Airborne has adopted my program “ScamLifeGuard.com” as a humanitarian program to help the world. It protects people from internet, business, romance, military and human trafficking scams.
You are known to be volunteering to help wounded veterans. Can you explain the significance of these jobs to you and to the military?
I have have been hospitalized several times for suicide attempts. I decided to fight back and use my own experiences to help by becoming a Suicide Prevention Counselor.
My Suicide Prevention Motto is“Do Not Get Lost at SEA – Find a PAL”
The SEA of life. Think of yourself as a little boat in the ocean of the world. Everyone is a boat and each boat struggles in the different currents in the ocean of the world. You can’t notice every single boat, because only that boat knows how that current is hitting that boat, which signifies the struggles in life.
Do Not Get Lost at SEA.
S is for SHY. E is for Embarrassed. A is for Ashamed.
Find a PAL, a friend, which is NOT a person.
P is for Passion ( Of your dreams). A is for Aspire (Fight and educate yourself). L is for Legacy (You will have your family and friends).
What aspects or qualities of your father do you feel proud of and did those features influence your career path selection?
My father was born in 1928 and he is a great influence in my life, because of his military career, in WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War and also as a New York City Police Officer. The dual parenting skills along with my mother, Ngọc Thị Thạch, was an important factor. My father supported my mother’s desire to return to Vietnam for the summer in 1985. During that time period, I also accompanied her every summer for two months until I was 17 years old. Immersing in the culture of my heritage provided me a balance that shaped my future as a Vietnamese-American
Interviewed by: BBT MVM