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NSWC Philadelphia Division Celebrates National Engineers Week with Inspirational Talk by U.S. Navy’s First Vietnamese-American Rear Admiral

By Margaret Kenyon, NSWCPD Public Affairs | NSWCPD | Feb. 27, 2020

“If you want to change the world, you want to be in science and technology. You want to be an engineer.” -- Rear Adm. Huan Nguyen,
Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), Deputy Commander, Cyber Engineering

More than 40 years ago, Nguyen fled his homeland of Vietnam for a better life in America. Little did he know he would one day become the first Vietnamese-American flag officer in the U.S. Navy. He shared his harrowing story, as well as provided career and life advice, during a National Engineers Week event at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Philadelphia Division (NSWCPD) on Feb. 18.

“The United States took me in and gave me opportunities to do what I wanted … to let me excel in society,” Nguyen said to a standing-room only crowd of NSWCPD employees, noting that everyone has struggles and challenges to get through road blocks.

Nguyen first came to the United States via Guam in 1975 as a political refugee after witnessing the massacre of his entire family during the fall of Saigon in Vietnam. With only the clothes on his back and no English skills, he moved in with an uncle. After taking a crash course in English, Nguyen was placed in high school, where he discovered he had an aptitude for science and mathematics, calling it his “calling to be an engineer.”

As his English skills improved and he continued to excel in math and science, Nguyen began to ask himself how would he go to the next level and how could he serve the country that gave him so many opportunities.
In 1981, Nguyen graduated from Oklahoma State University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Electrical Engineering. His first job was in a fast track GS-7/9/11 engineering position at the National Science Foundation. Nguyen went on to receive master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Purdue University and information technology from Carnegie Mellon University.

Nguyen received a direct commission in the Reserve Engineering Duty Officer program in 1993, and served on a number of operational tours including a variety of waterfront maintenance, as well as staff, assignments.

In his current role as the new deputy commander of NAVSEA’s cyber engineering, Nguyen is responsible for everything cyber, which is a key part of NSWCPD’s mission.

“Let me be your champion to bring technology to bear on our new way of fighting … We are at war every day, and need to be nimble when dealing with our adversaries,” said Nguyen, adding that as there are new challenges to be faced with cybersecurity, U.S. Navy platforms must take this into account at the beginning of the system’s life cycle, not as an afterthought.

“We need to be designing our systems so that they survive a cyber attack,” he advised.

Nguyen also offered life and leadership guidance including how you are never too old to have a mentor, you must be responsible for your actions to move forward, and how you must be passionate about what you do.

“In this life there will always be roadblocks and people who don’t believe it in you. It’s easy to blame other people,” reflected Nguyen. “I’ve been in life or death situations that have given me the insight that I’ve been put in this place to do more than just survive. I’ve been put on this earth to make the world a better place.”

NSWCPD Technical Director Tom Perotti thanked Nguyen for his remarks and concluded the event by saying: “No one does what we (NSWCPD) do. We provide a unique capability for the nation and Navy. Your dedication to mission is why the Navy is in the position to protect our homeland.”

NSWCPD employs approximately 2,700 civilian engineers, scientists, technicians, and support personnel doing research and development, test and evaluation, acquisition support, and in-service logistics engineering for Navy ships. NSWCPD is also the lead organization providing cybersecurity for all ship systems.