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A journey from carrier decks to KC-10s

Pilot wings

2nd Lt. Luan Truong’s spouse pins on his U.S. Air Force pilot wings above his U.S. Navy Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist insignia. Truong’s journey from his birth in the Republic of Vietnam to earning his Air Force wings crossed one ocean, four aircraft carrier decks, a Humvee maintenance yard and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Airman 1st Class Taylor Crul)

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- 2nd Lt. Luan Truong crossed one ocean, four aircraft carrier decks, a Humvee maintenance yard and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University to receive his Air Force pilot wings.

Truong graduated from Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 17-15 Sept. 29, 2017, at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

Today he flies KC-10 Extenders, an aerial refueling and cargo aircraft, with the 9th Air Refueling Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, California.

His path to earning U.S. Air Force pilot wings was very different from his fellow students. It began in the Republic of Vietnam.

He is the grandson of Vinh Truong, a helicopter pilot in the South Vietnamese Air Force, who spent 13 years in a North Vietnam POW camp after his helicopter was shot down in 1975.

“He escaped, got on a fishing boat and after many tries, crossed the water to the Philippines as a refugee,” said Truong. From there, his grandfather migrated to the United States. Truong was the last of his grandfather’s family to join him in the United States in 2001.

“I was 13 with zero English when I arrived,” said Truong. But he dived right into public school in Gresham, Oregon. Hard work and desire kept him going through high school where he took additional classes at the local community college.

After high school, Truong continued with college, but his heart wasn’t in it. Despite his family’s objections, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He wanted to travel, see things, be on his own, and most important, honor his grandfather and the country that took him in.

The Navy trained him to work on F/A-18 Hornets as a mechanic and crew chief. Over the next five years he served aboard four aircraft carriers – Kitty Hawk, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and John C. Stennis.

While in the Navy, Truong used tuition assistance and most of his savings to complete a bachelor’s degree in aeronautics through Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

And in 2013 it was time to try something else. But he wanted to continue his military journey. “I wanted to see what the other branches had to offer,” he said.

“I like working on things with my hands,” said Truong, so he enlisted in the U.S. Army and learned to maintain high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles – Humvees. To keep his plate full, he also studied air traffic control.

During his two years with the Army, Truong completed most of his master’s degree classes in aerospace operations with Embry Riddle. He even earned a helicopter pilot’s license, flying the Robinson R22 and Schweizer 300.

Truong has always enjoyed new challenges, whether it was learning to speak English in Oregon or marrying a friend of his sister’s in 2013. And honoring his grandfather was never far from his thoughts.

So he decided to become a military pilot.

He applied for Officer’s Training School with the Army, Navy, Air Force and even the Coast Guard. “The Air Force made me the best, and first offer,” he said.

Truong plans to make the Air Force a career. “I want to do something that’s bigger than myself. When I’m 90, I want to look back and say I’ve done something great in life.”

And he likes a challenge. Like balancing flying and family life. “You always want more time with family,” he said.

Although he has heard of “Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead,” he hasn’t watched an episode. Truong doesn’t play video games either. “There are more important things to do with life,” he said.

While at Vance, it was pilot training, studying, family and sleeping when possible. When he took time to read for pleasure, it was a technical manual.

He was hoping to fly fighter aircraft after graduation from pilot training. “They say it is better for family life,” he said. But location was more important than which aircraft he would fly.

He was happy when he received the KC-10 at Travis Air Force Base.

Truong plans to fly until the Air Force kicks him out. But retirement is not a word he embraces. “I would go crazy if I did nothing after retirement.

“I want to travel the world, helping the poor,” he said. That help would range from physical work with local organizations to providing food and finances. One destination will be the Republic of Vietnam. “I speak the language and know the culture.”

That would bring his life full circle. A journey that began as a way to honor his grandfather and the United States of America. A journey that travelled over aircraft carrier decks, Army maintenance yards and Air Force flight ready rooms.

A journey destined to fulfill his plan to “do something that’s bigger than myself.”