Kentwood resident and Michigan National Guard Soldier, Private 1st Class Son Thanh Tran has been selected to attend the Army’s elite United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. Tran is a 2012 graduate of East Kentwood High School and is the first American citizen in his family.

His maternal grandfather was a U.S. Soldier in the Vietnam War, and his paternal grandfather and uncles were South Vietnamese soldiers who served with the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. After the fall of Saigon, the new communist government of Vietnam imprisoned Tran’s uncle for his support of U.S. military actions during the war. When the U.S. Soldiers left, Tran’s maternal grandparents lost contact with each other. Decades later, because of his mother’s Asian-American ethnicity, she and her husband were authorized to come to the United States under the Orderly Departure Program. Tran was born in Michigan shortly after they arrived.

Even before knowing his military lineage, Tran’s parents noticed he had a fascination for the military from an early age. He thought about West Point when he was in middle school, but the four years of attendance at West Point and five-year military commitment was a little overwhelming for his young mind to contemplate.

“To a 13-year-old, nine years was almost as long as how much of my life I could remember,” said Tran.

During his senior year of high school, he instead enlisted in the Michigan Army National Guard and went to basic combat training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri right after he graduated.

While Tran was in basic training, he received an e-mail from the United States Military Academy’s National Guard liaison stating that his military entrance test scores showed potential for academic success at West Point. Until this time, Tran was unaware that National Guard Soldiers could apply to West Point. During advanced individual training at the Defense Information School at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, he researched information about West Point and rekindled his childhood interest to attend the school.

Tran graduated from AIT as the distinguished honor graduate in his Basic Multimedia Illustrator Course and was assigned to the Joint Force Headquarters, Michigan Army National Guard public affairs office based in Lansing. He mentioned to his supervisor, Sgt. 1st Class Jim Downen, that he had received an e-mail from the USMA scout, and Downen strongly encouraged him to apply to the academy.

All United States Military Academy applicants must compete for a nomination from their U.S. Congress members. After months of working to complete the requirements for application, Tran received a call from U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (MI-02), notifying him that he was selected for appointment to the USMA. He will begin this new chapter in his life this summer and understands that this opportunity is available because he is an American

“Tran embodies the best qualities of the millennial generation. He understands the impact of today’s social media, cultural differences, and given his academic achievement, will be an asset to the U.S. Army as a commissioned officer. I look forward to see him graduate and have told him to keep in touch so I can attend the ceremony,” said Downen.

“My parents worked hard and were able to give me a good life and it wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for this country. Being in the Army was something I could do to give back to the country. My military leaders have been supportive and have been mentoring me. They have all provided invaluable lessons that I will take with me to West Point, and throughout life,” said Tran.

Story and photo by Master Sgt. Denice Rankin, Joint Force Headquarters, Michigan National Guard

Photo caption:

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Gregory Vadnais, the adjutant general of the Michigan National Guard, congratulates Pfc. Son Tran at the Joint Force Headquarters in Lansing, Mich., May 16, 2014, on his selection to attend the United States Military Academy, West Point, N.Y. Tran is assigned to the JFHQ, public affairs office in Lansing as a multimedia illustrator and was identified by the USMA during basic military training as a possible academy candidate because of his high aptitude scores his military entrance exam. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Denice Rankin/released).