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NEWS | May 3, 2023

Growing up in war-torn Vietnam, leads NSWCDD chief engineer in lifelong pursuit of stability

By Dave Ellis, NSWCDD Corporate Communications

At the tender age of six, Kathleen “Katie” Young endured the instability of a country torn apart by civil war. Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese on April 30, 1975, ending the Vietnam War and forever changing the trajectory of her family’s life.

Young’s family enjoyed an upper-class life, including a lovely house with a service staff. Her father served as a colonel in the South Vietnamese Army while her mother was one of the attending physicians for the South Vietnamese president’s family.

She remembers her home was always full of people and welcome to all. Visits from extended family, neighbors and friends occurred daily. “It was almost an open-door policy,” Young said. “I miss that sense of community.”

After the North took control of the country, everything changed for Young’s family. Her father was imprisoned for 10 years, leaving her mother alone to endure the social, political and economic upheavals of the war's repercussions while working two full-time jobs to support Young and her five siblings.

The war and its aftermath instilled in Young the need for stability, which influenced her decision to work at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division. “I feel very strongly that the U.S. plays an important role in maintaining stability across the world,” she said. “It’s a very important personal connection for me. What we do here at Dahlgren for the Department of Defense contributes to our country’s efforts.”

Young’s family settled in Montgomery County, Maryland, when they emigrated from Vietnam. She hit the ground running during her first week in the U.S. Wanting to learn the language and assimilate quickly, Young found volunteer work with a social services agency where she was tasked with helping refugees with setting up medical appointments, applying for social security cards and other day-to-day needs necessary to living in America. The work provided Young with the experience to help her own family navigate through the workings of their new homeland. 

Young pursued electrical engineering in college, earning a bachelor’s from the University of Maryland and then a master’s from the University of Southern California. She also holds a master’s in national strategic and securities studies from the Naval War College.

In 2000, Young joined the NSWCDD workforce, where she now serves as chief engineer for the Strategic and Computing Systems Department and is dual-hatted as the Conventional Prompt Strike Software lead. Her work at Dahlgren has earned her numerous awards, including the Dr. James Colvard Award and the United States Navy Meritorious Civilian Service Award.

Young loves meeting and learning from people from all walks of life. “I have friends from places like Iran and Burundi. I love hearing about their cultures and experiences,” Young said. “To me, it’s like a quilt or a tapestry that gives us a multicolored-multidimensional picture of the world. Our country’s greatest accomplishment as a community is that it is made of many different kinds of people.”