SaQuang Lam is a systems administrator at Student Health Services. Many know him for his computer know-how. Some local refugees know him as the guy who finds cast off computers and electronics spare parts and refurbishes them as gifts for refugee children, served by Lutheran Family Services. He was a refugee himself, a Cambodian escaping with his family from South Vietnam when he was 12. “My dad [who was a Buddhist monk] said we’d rather die with freedom than on our knees.” They made it to the Thai border, then Bangkok, then Indonesia; then they were selected to come to the United States.
Others off-campus know him as a platoon leader. A decade ago, he was a new student at UNCG, in computer science. He was working part-time off-campus doing data entry on Sept. 11, 2001, when televisions showed the World Trade Center in flames. He’d joined the Army in 1993 and was serving in the National Guard when the Pentagon and Twin Towers were struck. He knew his semester had come to an end; he reported to the armory in Salisbury. Returning months later, he got a student tech position at Student Health Services and continued his studies. But he was deployed to Iraq in 2004, where he served in logistics and supply system. “Without a supply system, nothing can operate,” he says. He second deployment was in 2009-10. He was an armor officer, a platoon leader of four tanks and 16-20 personnel. They used Humvees and MRAP’s (mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles). They interacted with local citizens, he says, finding out what the people needed and “where the bad guys are,” so they could notify Intelligence officers.
He says that coming home this time, compared to 2004, was an easier transition, for him and his platoon. “A big difference. The Army is doing a lot more for the soldier, to make sure they get back into civilian life fine.They call you, to make sure no soldiers fall through cracks.” He says he’ll attend the campus’ Veterans and Military Expo, Sept. 7. He believes he’ll be deployed again, he just doesn’t know where. “I stay in contact with all my guys.”
Most vivid moments while deployed in Iraq
- My first interaction with my commander An a–chewing. I’ll never forget it. He meant well. I didn’t know how he operated. It was at 4 in the morning. We’d flown in late… A thing to remember.
- Interactions with people and how well they received us ‘Come in. Drink tea. Have chai.’ Children waving at us. They wanted us there [in Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad]. The chai [tea] was hot. It’s 140 degrees [outside] – and you’re drinking chai! I loved the chai.
- People hugging us guys [This may be] in contrast to others’ perspectives. … We’d see a kid with no shoes. ‘Hey, have some food,’ we’d say. Our guys had heart.
- Mail call Every time, everyone’s faces would light up. It’s little things from the US that’d make us very happy. ITS and Jeanie Roberts-Wyatt sent us a big box. All our guys’ eyes lit up. “Want some of these, some of that?” Sometimes we just got one [thing of mail] for weeks or months. … A little note makes your day.
- Receiving 45 soccer balls from UNCG staff members [When Nurse Sharon Whitfield and others in SHS and ITS asked what he and the platoon wanted for the holidays, the reply was ‘Nothing except soccer balls for the kids.’] Give a soccer ball to children, it’s everything. They love soccer more than anything in the world. Student Health, Athletics, Omega Sports, ITS … they sent us soccer balls and pumps. Even the stores [in Baghdad] had none. None. Couldn’t buy them… We tried to give them to the most needy. One time we went to a project to build a well for water. A boy was sitting in the corner, a fifth grader. “I love soccer,” he said….You have a soccer ball? “No.” Here. He grabbed the ball and ran away to his dad … We’d go to schools. Once, we took 10 soccer balls to create a soccer program there. And we followed up.