From Cambodia to Rhode Island to Afghanistan

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URI alumnus fights for peaceful legacies

KINGSTON, R.I. — May 15, 2006 — Vanna Nhem of Cranston, a 2004 graduate of the University of Rhode Island, was born in Cambodia. His parents came to Rhode Island when he was 2 not knowing anyone and unable to speak English. They rarely talked to their son or their three daughters about their homeland experiences. It was too painful. He knows that the Khmer Rouge murdered some family members and that his parents were forced into labor camps.

Today, Nhem, a first lieutenant, is one of 20,000 American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, a war which has been largely overshadowed by the one in Iraq. Nhem is in Bin Ladin country fighting a war in which the Taliban uses terror and torture while American troops use paved roads and Predator drones.

Currently, Nhem is part of the operation “Mountain Lion” in the northeastern region of Afghanistan.

“Despite all the bad things you see in the news, the people of Afghanistan appreciate us and want us here in their country. We are helping them with food, education, and technology,” says Nhem who has served a third of his year’s deployment in this rugged mountainous country of hot summers and cold winters. His best intelligence comes from children whom he has befriended.

As a Battalion Support Operation Officer, he is responsible for providing every aspect of logistical support to a battalion, which consists of 800 personnel. “Anything my battalion needs —ammo, fuel, food, water, supplies, and transportation — I’m responsible for coordinating it and getting it to them by air or ground,” he says.

After graduating from Cranston East, Nhem enrolled at URI with the hope of becoming an Army officer. He became an ROTC cadet and was commissioned a second lieutenant the morning he graduated with a degree in business administration.

“The ROTC program prepared me well,” the URI alumnus says. “Some of the basic things you learn, such as leadership skills, military-decision making, and land navigation are things I use everyday in my planning. The staff kept the program’s training intense and realistic.”

“I remember Cadet Nhem had an irrepressible optimistic attitude. Always wearing a smile, always ready to do what needed to be done. I believe he represents the quintessential American spirit,” says Lt. Col. Paul C. Krajeski, professor of military science and oversees URI’s ROTC program. Krajeski will be deployed to Afghanistan this June.

Since the weather has warmed, enemy activity has increased. Mortars, rocket propelled grenades, and roadside bombs are daily encounters.

Nhem finds an extraordinary bond between Americans soldiers in Afghanistan. “There are people from all walks of life. Black, Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic, rich, and poor. With all that said, when the bullets start flying, all of that is out the window. You basically fight for the kid, man, and women to your left and right, who are doing the same for you. It’s in that moment that I truly understand the price of freedom others have paid for me and I’m truly grateful. I’m just doing my part to benefit the next generation so that they can have the same opportunity that was given to me.”

“There are days when I have to work 24 hours, but nothing can compare to the rough times my parents went through to give me this opportunity that I currently have,” the 26-year-old says. “Every time, I find myself feeling sorry for myself, I think of my parents and I find the strength to do whatever is required of me. I hope that by us being here, some little boy somewhere in Afghanistan will have the opportunity to meet his grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, and to see his country. I never had that opportunity.”


My battalion would appreciate any old books, magazine, CD, DVDs, candy, snacks, and anything that you can imagine. They love receiving stuff from the states. Items can be mailed to:

1LT Vanna Nhem

TF Spartan

Echo Co, 1-32 IN

APO, AE 09354

Bagram Airfield

Photo submitted by Vanna Nhem