24th MEU Marine, received unique promotion

13 Jul 2004 | Lance Cpl. Caleb J. Smith

Not every day does a promotion ceremony take place in a barren desert, on the other side of the world, in the middle of the night ... except in the case of Lance Cpl. Veasna Sam.  His promotion from private first class to lance corporal was held in Camp Virginia, Kuwait, at midnight on July 11.

Sam is a member of the Marine Expeditionary Unit Personnel Administration Center, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, currently awaiting movement to Iraq.
Because Sam works an afternoon/evening shift on Camp Virginia, from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., the only time available to hold the promotion ceremony was late at night.

Sam's promotion ceremony is almost as unique as his personal history.  Sam, from Lynn, Mass., is not a U.S. citizen.  He was born in a refugee camp called Kaoidang, in Thailand.  His parents fled the neighboring country of Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge.  While in power the Khmer Rouge murdered, worked to death, or killed by starvation close to 1.7 million Cambodians, more than one-fifth of the country's population.  Sam's parents both became U.S. citizens after moving to the states.

"I was working on getting my citizenship just before this deployment," said Sam,  a deployment he volunteered for.

"Sam does his job and then some," said Warrant Officer Jace Hamlett, M-PAC personnel officer. "[He] sucks it up and keeps going."  Hamlett also said that it doesn't matter if you're forward deployed or back on your home base; the Marine Corps does its best to make sure Marines still receive the promotions and awards they deserve.

Despite a complicated background, Sam continues to keep a positive attitude --  something many others may find hard to do in the desert environment.  "[Sam is] the kind to hit the ground running," says Staff Sgt. Thomas Owens, the M-PAC personnel chief.  The biggest change Sam has noticed is one Marines strive for. 

"You get more respect as a lance corporal than a PFC," he said.  "Others acknowledge me with a different attitude."

With his sights already set on a meritorious promotion to corporal, Sam plans to continue his duties as a forward deployed Marine and later gain his U.S. citizenship, something he's definitely already earned.  "I feel like an American already, but citizenship means I'll have the same rights as all U.S. citizens."