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Celebrating Asian–Pacific American Heritage Month: Tuan Phamdo

Yangping Guo

Tuan Phamdo's family came to the United States in 1975 with little more than the clothes on their backs. Their four young boys in tow, his engineer father and history teacher mother journeyed from Saigon to New York City as part of the military evacuation. The family's departure coincided with the fall of Saigon, which marked the end of the Vietnam War and the start of events leading to the formal reunification of Vietnam into a communist state.

In New York, the Phamdo family started from scratch, crowding in the Brooklyn townhouse of an aunt. Tuan (an engineer in APL's Asymmetric Operations department [AOD]) was only four years old when they came to the United States, so he doesn't remember too many details from those early years. "I finally realized what my family had gone through in 1975 much later in my life—when we sponsored an aunt and uncle to come to the United States in 1990—and I witnessed the process from an adult perspective. I remember them living in our basement and being very impressed by what they did to get on their feet."

Tuan says that education was of primary importance to the family, and his parents helped him and his brothers to be successful with their studies first in schools in New York City, then later in Virginia and Maryland where their parents found work. His father, Tue Phamdo, was able to continue his career as an engineer in the United States, while his mother, Nu Ho, went on to work with the American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, DC, helping to reunite Vietnamese children of servicemen with their fathers in the states.

Family values, combined with a strong work ethic and an emphasis on education, helped all four boys get a college education. "My parents helped my older brothers, my older brothers helped me, and I helped my younger brother, "says Tuan of how he was able to finance his education and earn undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Maryland, College Park, to become an electrical engineer.

He came to APL in 2008 after gaining experience with both the Naval Air Systems Command and the National Security Agency as well as in the private sector. "I like the Lab because the focus is on technical stuff," says Tuan. "It is an academic culture that is very collegial, and I enjoy that the goal is doing interesting work." The culture of the Laboratory has drawn other members of Tuan's family to APL too. Tuan's brother Nam Phamdo (also in AOD) and cousin Minhtri Ho (in the Air and Missile Defense Department) are also on staff at the Laboratory. Another cousin, Ara Cost, worked at APL for several years before she went on to pursue teaching at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Today, Tuan enjoys the wide variety of work he is involved in at APL as a member of various multifunctional teams. Here he leads and supports the development of tagging and tracking solutions for wireless communication systems and works with large and small groups. He also develops software and performs software vulnerability analysis of commercial communication systems, providing cyber attack risk feedback. "I think being a natural problem solver is something that runs in my family since my father, brother, and I are all pretty good at it," says Tuan.

In his free time, Tuan enjoys spending time with his family and celebrating Vietnamese traditions his mother works hard to keep alive with her sons and their families. He also is an avid golfer and plays basketball with friends.