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USC alum, an Army brigadier general, shares his tale of success with cadets

The first Vietnamese-born American to earn the fifth-highest rank in the Army savors his special homecoming.

Brig. Gen. Viet Luong
Brig. Gen. Viet Luong leaves his visit with first-year cadets on campus. (Photo/David Sprague)

The last time Viet Luong ’87 visited USC, he watched the Trojan football team crush UCLA 50-0 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 2011, but he didn’t stick around.

Since then, he has made history. A graduate of biological sciences from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Luong in 2014 was promoted to the rank of brigadier general, becoming the first Vietnamese-born American to have earned the fifth-highest rank in the Army.

On March 30, Luong paid his respects to the university and its ROTC program, which gave him the foundation for a successful career in the U.S. military. He also attended the university’s annual dinner for veterans and ROTC students.

“For me, this is fortuitous because I have a strong desire to be reconnected with my alma mater. It’s really great to be back at the university and to be connected with the corps of cadets,” Luong said.

Then and now

Forty men and women are currently in the USC Reserve Officers’ Training Corps — a program that has existed at USC since 1940. Luong recalled that when he was in the USC ROTC from 1983 to 1987, he was the only immigrant cadet — a difference of which he was aware almost daily.

Viet Luong listens to a cadet.

Luong listens to a cadet during his visit with USC ROTC. (Photo/David Sprague)

Much has changed. He said he just met more than a handful of students in USC’s Reserved Officers’ Training Corps who were also immigrants or the children of immigrants.

While visiting the cadets, “one of the points I really stressed was the sense of selfless service and commitment to our ideals,” Luong said. “At times, I think that really doesn’t get enforced as much as it could. We live in a great nation — the best in the world — and only a great nation such as this could afford to provide such opportunity.”

For Luong and his family, opportunity has been a life saver. He, his father, mother and seven sisters fled Saigon for the United States a day before the North Vietnamese took over the city on April 30, 1975. The family found safety on the USS Hancock in the South China Sea. From there, they and thousands of other refugees made their way to the United States as part of Operation Frequent Wind, a political asylum program.

While standing on the aircraft carrier, Luong said he knew that he would serve in the U.S. military. Doing so also continued the legacy of service in his family. His father and uncles had all served in the South Vietnamese military. Like them, he said, he ended up specializing in combat.

Luong said his USC homecoming was an opportunity for him to share his experience with aspiring cadets.

“What’s allowing me to continue to serve past the requisite 20 years is the fact that I can really contribute now, not only to the military, but to impact lives,” Luong said. “It’s just another way of giving back. My service is really an example for them as they go on this journey.”

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