Laotian Immigrant A Proud Sailor
by U.S. Navy Talent Acquisition Group Northern Plains
November 1, 2020
Machinery Repairman 1st Class Fue Lor, a Navy Sailor assigned to Navy Talent Acquisition Group Northern Plains, is living a life that he could only dream of as a young man. He has a house in a St. Paul suburb, a wife, two children and works mostly during regular business hours.
Lor, a Hmong immigrant, spends his days as an example to his children and the Hmong community that he holds near and dear, but it was not always the case for him. Lor grew up struggling with acceptance, racism, language barriers and a cross-planetary move. His family came to the U.S. in 1990, when he was just 9, as his parents fled Laos to provide a better life for their children and escape persecution.
September 29, 2020 - Machinery Repairman 1st Class Fue Lor, an Onboarder assigned to Navy Talent Aquistion Group Northern Plains, poses for a photo at the Eau Claire Navy Recruiting Station. Lor is serving in his second duty for recruiting in the area. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Christopher Lindahl)
The origin stories for many Hmong Americans are similar and most all begin with the Vietnam War. During the war, a significant portion of Laotian Hmong chose to fight alongside the United States and South Vietnam. This caused a significant problem for the North and most were branded as traitors. When the war was declared over in 1975, more than half of the Laotian Hmong population left their home country as refugees, many of them migrated to the U.S.
“The reason we are here is because of the Vietnam war. The U.S. asked [Laotians] to help, and my dad fought in the war,” Lor said.
His father was recruited at an extremely young age in a time where it was commonplace to do so.
“He was a 12-year-old kid - carrying a weapon,” Lor said about his father. “He did it to where the war ended, and we had nowhere to go, he was on the wanted list by the Vietnamese.”
Lor’s father would then spend years trying to provide for his family while also trying to maintain his freedom.
“They tried to hunt him down every day. He couldn’t even live with us. He had to live in the jungle and come back at night just to see us,” Lor said.
The senior Lor eventually saved enough money and found a way to introduce his family to a better life. Upon arrival in the U.S., the Lor family settled in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, a city with a population of roughly 57,000 and an approximate 3% Asian Pacific makeup - making the Asian Pacific community the second largest ethnic group in the city after the roughly 95% makeup of Caucasians.
For Lor, that presented a challenge to be accepted by his local community as he was trying to adapt to his new life in the states. Lor said his family moved into one of the poorest neighborhoods in Eau Claire, and that didn’t help with his acceptance. He would hear comments from people either to his face or behind his back about his heritage and race.
“It was very hard. I don’t know what other people experienced, but it even happened at school,” Lor said.
Even some staff members at the schools he attended would make off-color comments such as suggesting his family return to “where they came from.” He adapted and was forced to develop thick skin to deal with everything.
Lor pushed on through his schooling and even took a shot at college, but discovered after nearly two years that he would not be able to continue.
“I couldn’t afford college. It was too expensive,” he said. “So I left after two years and I joined the Navy.”
It sounds simple enough, but Lor was not immediately sure what he wanted to do with his life. He just knew he needed to make a decision.
“I came from a poor, poor country and also a poor, poor neighborhood, and I wanted to change that. That’s why I joined the Navy,” he said. “But you know anybody can change their future. You may be born into a poor family or a family that doesn’t have a lot. But you can change that.”
While Lor felt joining the Navy was a great choice, his parents didn't share his sentiment.
“I visited the Navy, took the test, and didn’t tell them until the day I left for boot camp. I said ‘Mom, can you meet me at this strip mall, I just have to tell you something,’” Lor said. “If I had to tell her ahead of time, she wouldn’t let me.”
Lor didn’t like the idea of holding his news from his parents, but he didn’t feel like there was any other way.
“We came from a war-torn country; my parents took us here to get away from war. And now I’m going into the military. Does that sound right?” he said.
But Lor was not deterred. In the Navy, he found financial stability and responsibility as a machinery repairman. He also found something else he had been looking for – acceptance.
February 10, 2009 - Machinery Repairman 1st Class Fue Lor looks out over the ocean while on deployment with the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7). (U.S. Navy courtesy photo from Machinery Repairman 1st Class Fue Lor)
Although Lor doesn't doubt that discrimination in the Navy exists, he personally has not seen it or experienced it.
“In the Navy, you have all different people, all different colors, types, you name it, from all over the world - and you’ve all got each other’s back, because that’s who we are,” he said.
The Navy has even stood up a special task force to address issues of racism, sexism and other destructive biases.
“As a Navy – uniform and civilian, active and reserve - we cannot tolerate discrimination or racism of any kind. We must work to identify and eliminate individual and systemic racism within our force,” said Adm. Mike Gilday, the Navy's Chief of Naval Operations. “That is why we are standing up Task Force One Navy, which will work to identify and remove racial barriers and improve inclusion within our Navy.”
As of Jan. 1, 2020 ... the Navy was comprised of nearly 40% minorities. Lor said that diversity is one of the things that he really enjoys about the Navy.
Now working in the recruiting realm for the second time, Lor serves as an “onboarder,” where he has the job of motivating and preparing new recruits who have already committed to joining the Navy as they prepare for basic training and their new Navy life.
During his time in recruiting, Lor has helped numerous Hmong and other minorities find their way as well, including recruiting more than 30 Sailors from the Hmong community alone.
“We are fortunate to have a Sailor with the experience and maturity of MR1 Lor as part of our command, and our Navy. His unique experiences, combined with the experiences and talents of others within our command, make our team stronger,” Cmdr. James Darkenwald, Commanding Officer of NTAG Northern Plains, said. “You see it in every successful organization--Diversity of culture and thought is critical to innovation and moving forward in any community, team, or organization. The Navy’s openness and emphasis on Equal Opportunity focuses our energy on what matters - the talents, backgrounds and experience of our Sailors, and how their individual perspectives can make our team stronger through it.”
To Lor, it’s about offering the same opportunities he found for himself to help his community or anyone else who may be struggling to find their path in life. His parents, and their struggle, is what drives him every day.
“They literally got rid of everything they had to get us here. I’m not going to waste it, I’m going to do something about it. My dad fought in the war with the Americans, I want to be a part of that, to carry on the legacy,” he said.
NTAG Northern Plains is responsible for the Navy’s enlisted and officer recruiting, covering 393,000 square miles in the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, and parts of Illinois, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
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