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The clang of tools and parts reverberated around the motor pool like church bells as the mechanics of the 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment dutifully turned their wrenches. For them, their temple is a bay and their holy day a Monday, a weekly regularity that neither God nor General can interrupt. Yet as Pauline Heng - a newly minted U. Army 2nd Lieutenant - walked through the bay doors, the hum of engines died and mechanics sheathed their screwdrivers.
Most looked in disbelief, unsure of what they were seeing.
Ribs were elbowed, backs slapped, hugs all around for a familiar face who had returned different, yet unchanged all at once. This was March Heng had just returned from Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia, where she had earned top marks and a new rank. Just a few short months prior she was a wrench-turner too, roughing it with her friends in the Holy Church of Motor Pool Monday. At face value the idiom sounds flowery and relatively universal.
As you learn her story, it is everything but that. It is a poetic illustration of her true purpose in life: to build bridges. So as an adult, my mother decided to look for my father's family just to see if they still survived.
Or if they didn't get killed. In the midst of the intercontinental chaos, her parents found each other and relocated to Seattle, Washington, where a community of Cambodian refugee families began to blossom. If you are being raised by just your grandparents or only one parent, or an aunt and uncle who brought you in, that is still your family. Incredibly, incredibly hard. She laid out the tea set. Five porcelain pieces and a metal thermos with hot water. One cup had a koi fish superimposed into the bottom; it swam in loose-leaf black tea. I got a free compulsory education from elementary through high school which is free for us in the United States.
Heng flourished there. She polished her skills on the yueqin, a traditional Chinese four-stringed, round-bodied instrument. And I was just awed by the amount of passion I saw I wanted to speak to them. In three months, Heng became conversational in Mandarin. In eight months she was fluent. Her parents and grandparents spoke many languages at home, among them French and English, but also a very rare Chinese dialect called Teochew. To her, the rare language represented a unique cultural thread that tied her to family going back several generations.
It also centered her cultural identity. Do I feel more Cambodian? Do I feel more American? Am I excluded from both because I'm too American to be this or too Cambodian to do that? One of those opportunities came in the form of a State Department program that taught leadership and language training to select high school students.
InHeng enlisted under a 35P military occupational specialty contract - cryptolinguist. The Women want nsa Mines West Virginia perfect fit was hampered in her final week of basic training when she was told that the security clearance required for that MOS was delayed, likely because of her education in China and numerous foreign contacts during her efforts to find friends and family displaced after the Cambodian genocide.
And inthe Army needed mechanics. I love my peers. If you go to the motor pool, these guys are my guys. I'm so lucky to have come to this place where everyone feels the hardship of being a mechanic. They're so supportive.
Then Spc. Heng, a self-proclaimed board game enthusiast, started a club within her troop where they played games like Cosmic EncounterCodenames and Spyfall. We get together on the weekdays after work and we break bread together. They were super willing to help me learn what to do and how to do it. I can't ever say that I was a good 91 Bravo. I'm pretty sure I'm still a pretty bad mechanic.
But I got to be part of this amazing community. She had made herself a critical part of the troop family, well beyond her games group and positive attitude. Even more so in the military. The only concept of Asians they ever had was from TV or what they have seen in the news lately; a caricature.
InHeng had seen hate crimes rise in the U. You do your best not to go to the police because it's just more trouble for your community, for yourself, or your family, whatever that might mean. For Heng, having grown up in the U.
I'm so glad that there are so many more people now who have a voice, who are willing to be the loud, audacious American.
And they are my friends. We are a kind of family and I invite questions. People are allowed to ask me questions, and they're allowed to make jokes.
And if something upsets me, we can have a real discussion. Now an Army officer, Heng has already seized on her new sense of responsibility. She help lead one of those discussions during I Corps monthly Readiness Day to address equal opportunity. The Readiness Day program helps Soldiers and leaders tackle critical topics like sexual assault, extremism, racism and overall ethics. Her troop held a barbeque after the conversations, where Heng broke bread with her family once more - one of the last times as she prepared to head out for Basic Officer Leader Course.
It was bitter-sweet. She dined with them in a new context, with new responsibilities. The faces of those gathered in the bay to witness her new rank reflected not just treasured friendships, memories of board games and shared toil in the motorpool.
Now they were the faces of those for whom she would soon be responsible. I'm the lowest ranking officer. But she remembered where she came from, and knew where she was going. Army mechanic-turned-officer finds joy in bridging cultures By Capt. Army 2nd Lt. Pauline Heng rightly a mechanic in Stryker Brigade, visits with her fellow mechanics in the Cav.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of 2nd Lt. Benning, Georgia in March Pauline Heng pours tea at her home while wearing a sweatshirt from Officer Candidate School, where she graduated in MarchWomen want nsa Mines West Virginia
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Army mechanic-turned-officer finds joy in bridging cultures