FORT IRWIN, Calif. --The right opportunity might not come around often, but when it presents itself, the best strategy would be to take it and not doubt if it's too soon or too difficult to pursue a goal.
That approach is being undertaken by Spc. Kevin Nguyen, a United States Army Soldier with an unwavering focus to remain an infantryman after having his right foot amputated August 2013. His desire to get back in the infantry ranks followed soon after -- with an added resolve created when told he would no longer be able to endure the rigors of infantry life.
"I want to go back to active duty, I want to go back to my [military occupational specialty]," Nguyen told the medical personnel overseeing his recovery in San Diego. "This is what I want to do and this is how I'm going to get there. I told them that and since then, I've been working hard to get back."
Nguyen's platoon sergeant Sgt. 1st Class Robert Peredo, with B Company, Warrior Transition Unit in San Diego, said the young Soldier has sheer determination.
"He does not see his injury as a setback, only an obstacle," Peredo said.
A few months after the surgery, an opportunity arose. National Training Center and Fort Irwin Commander Maj. Gen. Ted Martin permitted Nguyen to challenge himself in various events typical for infantry Soldiers. Only seven months from the amputation, Nguyen came to the NTC for several days in mid-March and performed a weapons qualification, an Army Physical Fitness Test, a six-mile road march and participated in the training of rotational unit 3rd Cavalry Regiment from Fort Hood, Texas. Nguyen's completion of the events will help him demonstrate to medical boards he's the proficient infantryman he set out to be when he first took the oath of enlistment.
Nguyen's road as an infantry Soldier began in 2011.
"I went straight to the Army, because I already knew which branch I wanted," Nguyen said about his visit with a recruiter.
After basic and advanced individual training at Fort Benning, Ga., the then 19-year-old from Westminster, Calif., was sent to serve with 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
"I loved my job," Nguyen said about his role with the 4-2 SBCT, 4-9 IN.
The Stryker unit came to the NTC for a training rotation and deployed to Afghanistan in November 2012. On Feb. 2, 2013, while on patrol near his forward operating base of Zangabad, an improvised explosive device detonated and severely injured Nguyen's right foot.
While receiving treatment at Navy Medical Center San Diego, Nguyen's foot would not heal. At the age of 20, Doctors told him he could keep his foot and be on constant pain medications, and use a wheelchair and crutches for the rest of his life; or, he could have his foot amputated and be up on his feet with a prosthesis in approximately three months. His decision to have the surgery was not easy, but it was the right one for him, Nguyen said. He wanted to be back on his feet.
"It was the hardest thing I have ever done," Nguyen remembered about his decision. "I got it done, and I felt a whole lot better after that. Let it go … get back on your feet and then get back at it, which is exactly what I did."
Nguyen, who is recuperating with B Co., WTU, was given a prosthetic and he immediately stood with little assistance. His journey to rejoin the infantry had resumed.
"I put it on, I walked straight, no support -- I took it home with me after an hour," Nguyen recalled.
The events he completed at the NTC in March allowed Nguyen to assess several prosthetics, his conditioning, and infantry skills. He shot expert, hitting 38 of 40 targets, and he aced his APFT. He completed the six-mile road march in one hour, 29 minutes. The events were hosted by E Troop, 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, who also took him to the field, where he participated in role-playing Afghan National Army during training for the 3rd CR. The Troop supported Nguyen's endeavor and he provided additional "esprit de corps."
"Morale is off the charts," Peredo said. "It boosted the entire company. Nguyen displayed a drive that they can have as well."
Nguyen credits Peredo and family with providing motivation. He expresses pride in his father's work ethic and the following words by Nguyen's aunt is his advice to others on a mission to succeed:
"You have your dreams -- go out and get them -- and don't ever let anyone tell you no. If this is what you want to do, then go get it. Keep going until you can't go any more."