Home : Media : News : Saved News Module

NSWC Dahlgren Division Engineers Recount Escapes as Refugees to a New Life in the United States

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications | June 27, 2019

DAHLGREN, Va. – From tragedy to triumph, two Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) professionals have found success through strength, courage, and resiliency.

Amara Elizabeth Halt and Dhruva Mishra could have given up early in life and allowed tragedy to impact their destiny. However, in the face of trial, tribulation, and possible death, they overcame dangerous journeys to succeed in the United States as Navy civilian engineers.

Inspired by her father, Chiv Lim, and an unwavering determination, Halt never allowed hardship to interfere with her pursuit of freedom.

“My brothers and I are grateful to our father,” Halt said at the World Refugee Day event held at the base theater in honor of Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, June 20. “If it were not for his courage, determination and guidance, we would have all died in Cambodia.”

From 1975 – 1979, the Phnom Penh, Cambodia native has endured the rise and fall of the Khmer Rouge and perils in the face of the North Vietnamese army.

“For me, freedom means having the opportunity to be what we never thought we would be,” Halt said. “It cannot be bestowed, it must be achieved.”

During their first attempt to flee Cambodia, they were faced with a decision to trust the footsteps of fellow Cambodians that led across a minefield in the Dangrek Mountains of Preah Vihear Province or remain trapped without food on the side of a mountain.

“There was a small pond with clear water,” Halt said. “A little boy wearing summer shorts carried a bucket and hurried to get water from the pond before anyone else could get to it. Suddenly I heard a big explosion and I could feel my body being pushed down to the ground. About five minutes later, I tried to get up; my body was shaking. I could see a lot of dust, and the smell of burning flesh. Many people were dead, their bodies had been cut apart by exploding mines,” Halt said.

With the thirst for freedom on her side, Halt and her family eventually made it to the United States. She is now the Missile Portfolio senior project manager for the NSWCDD Missile Systems Engineering and Integration Branch. Halt manages a portfolio of missile projects that includes Standard Missile-2 (SM-2), SM-6, NATO Sea Sparrow Missile System, Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, Rolling Airframe Missile, and the Phalanx Close-In Weapon System.

After he was threatened and told to leave his native county of Bhutan, Mishra escaped to Nepal. With clothes on their backs, and the few pieces of food to eat, Mishra and his family embarked on a four-day walk to the Indian border.

Mishra and his family – enduring atrocities of refugee life on the road— eventually arrived in Nepal. Unfortunately, the refugee camp was dangerous and inadequate. From no sanitation to diseases (cholera, typhoid, malaria) to violence via fighting in close quarters and food rations, there did not seem to be a glimmer of hope for Mishra’s family, and the other refugees that accompanied them.

“At one point, we thought we were all going to die either due to hunger or a communicable disease,” Mishra said.

One day while witnessing the cremation of 35 children, Mishra decided he had to change his environment. The sight of his world evaporating before his eyes became too much for him, and he, along with other educated people in his camp, knew they had to do something to stop the destruction of his people — but they had no idea  what it could be.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees came to the rescue. The organization coordinated several non-government organizations who transferred Bhutanese refugee camps to cleaner locations complete with running water. Along with health clinics, the death rate quickly declined.

Although Mishra did not have the luxury of classrooms, pens, pencils and paper, he was determined to educate his group of 22,000 refugees, living in one of the seven camps on the importance of education—even if it meant speaking to them from a muddy riverbank.

“No matter how many times circumstances tried to suppress us, we stood together, stronger than before and carried on,” Mishra said.

After resettling in the United States, he reignited his career with a job at a hotel, where he took advantage of every opportunity that came his way. His career branched off when he took on a position as a marketing manager at an information technology company and taught math at a community college in Richmond, Va. Eventually, Mishra got a full-time teaching position at a private university in Richmond where he taught mathematics for seven years.

Mishra joined the U.S. Navy as a civilian engineer in the summer of 2018 as a configuration analyst in the Configuration Management Branch. He then moved on to NSWCDD Nuclear Command and Control Branch where he is a scrum master and an analyst in a scrum team that develops software for warfighters.  

Looking back, Mishra never gave in to hardships. In fact, no matter how many times he fell down, he refused to give up.

“Failing is okay—we should fail fast and fail often,” Mishra said. “But not performing to your potential is not okay.”              

The NSWCDD sponsored event acknowledged the work and sacrifice of current and previous generations of Asian American and Pacific Islanders who have built a strong and lasting structure benefiting all Americans.

With this year’s theme of “Unite Our Mission by Engaging Each Other,” NSWCDD and base personnel celebrated the wealth of ideas, traditions, and commitment that those of AAPI heritage bring to the Navy and our nation. 

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders of various nationalities and ancestry—Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Southeast Asian, Asian Indian, and Polynesian—have a rich legacy of service and sacrifice in the United States Navy dating back to the 19th century. Currently, there are 24,743 Asian American and Pacific Islander Sailors serving in the Navy - including eight admirals and 318 commissioned officers as well as 659 master chief and senior chief petty officers.

The Federal Asian Pacific American Council says more than 23,000 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders representing 56 ethnic groups and speaking more than 100 languages serve the Navy team.