Master Sergeant Tianna Tien gave the keynote address at an event in support of International Women’s Day held at the Veterans Home of California Barstow, March 8.
Tien, S6 Communications chief, Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, began her address by explaining to the women and men veterans and their spouses that there are currently more than 200,000 women serving in the active-duty military. That is from the humble beginnings of less than 22, 000 women who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War I after first being allowed to enlist in 1914.
The path Tien took as a 6-year-old girl fleeing from her homeland of Vietnam to eventually enlisting in the Marine Corps is one filled with danger. It began with the chaotic fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War in April, 1975.
After hiding from the new regime under assumed names for four years, Tien and her family eventually became part of the group history knows as the Vietnamese Boat People, when her father arranged passage in 1979 on a fishing boat. The more generic term of boat people is used to describe the 2 million South Vietnamese refugees who fled their own homeland by any means available to avoid deadly reprisals from the victorious North Vietnamese communists who seized control of the country.
“There were 76 people on the fishing boat, and my family of five were part of that,” Tien told the Veterans Home residents. “As we packed into the boat I heard gunshots all around me because the Vietnamese Coast Guard was chasing us. My mother told me the sounds were fireworks.”
Tien said during the two-week ordeal which the refugees named the “Perilous Journey to America” the boat was attacked and robbed six times by Thai pirates.
“They took our jewelry, they took our food and they also took all the women. The only people left on the boat were men, little children and old women,” the master sergeant recalled.
“By the fourteenth day we were out of water, we were out of food,” she continued. “Luckily we were rescued by the Thai Coast Guard and were towed into shore where we began the interviewing process by the (United Nations) along with thousands of people before us.”
Tien said she and her family were in a refugee camp in Bangkok, Thailand, for three years before a church in Long Beach, California, sponsored her family so they could come to the United States to settle in Long Beach.
Although her two brothers joined the U.S. Army after they graduated from high school, Asian culture prevailed in her home and her parents would not sign the permission form to allow her to join the military, so after graduating from high school she went on to college.
In 1998, things changed.
“I joined the Marine Corps and told my family that I was going to boot camp tomorrow,” Tien recalled.
She said that led to her being “cast off the island” by her family for a while until she wrote a long letter explaining to her parents how she felt she had to serve to pay back America for saving their lives. In the letter, Tien spoke of her father’s service as a Ranger in the South Vietnamese Army and an advisor to the U.S. military, and how she wanted to do her part.
After recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina, she was assigned to 1st Marine Division, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
“At this time I was still learning to speak proper English,” Tien explained. “I graduated from high school with a 4.0 (grade point average) and went on to college as I was told by my parents. Fast forward, I was assigned as a canvassing recruiter (in Orange County). I spoke to parents about why they should let their daughters join the Marine Corps because I could relate to their concerns. I was on recruiting duty for three years and was very successful at it.”
After her recruiting duty, she returned to Camp Pendleton and was deployed to Afghanistan.
“At this time my daughter was only eight months old,” she said. “It was the hardest thing I ever had to do to give my daughter to my mother so I could deploy to a strange land without ever knowing if I would come back.”
When Tien returned, she got orders to Marine Corps Base Okinawa, Japan, where she served for six years.
“I loved the country, I loved the people, I loved the culture, and I wanted to stay, but it was time for me and my family to come back to the States,” Tien said.
That’s when she got orders to come to MCLB Barstow, arriving July 4, 2018.
“Two weeks later I fell in love with Barstow,” she said. “I got invited to so many events on and off base.
MCLB is so calm and peaceful and very tight-knit.”
Following Master Sgt. Tien’s talk, she opened the floor to all the veterans present, asking them to give their name, branch of service and what being in the military has meant to them.
“It’s been a pleasure to be here, to share our stories together. I’m very proud to carry on the legacy the people here helped to create,” Tien concluded. “Hopefully my story will inspire young women to carry on the torch of progress that you’ve passed on to me.”
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