Approximately five percent (5%) of soldiers in the U-S military are Asian Americans. Among them is a Cambodian-American who has fought for America, his adopted country, for more than 20 years.
Master Sergeant Sarun Sar came very close to losing his life in an attempt to save his soldiers in Afghanistan. His bravery in combat and heroism won him awards, the admiration of his platoon, and has given him a lot of media coverage.
Sarun Sar’s journey started in Kampong Speou, where he was born in 1966, into a family of villagers. His father was a schoolteacher, and his mother looked after their home on a large rice farm. The Khmer Rouge era left Sar orphaned; his family died of starvation, disease, or was executed.
At the age of 14, Sar escaped from Cambodia to a Thai Refugee Camp. In Thailand, Sar was shocked to find out that his older sister was alive in Cambodia, and decided to make the dangerous journey back.
Master Sergeant Sar: “I crossed the border, and went back to Cambodia to get my sister. At the Thai border, we were taken to Kao-I-Dang camp.”
Soon after, an American family sponsored Sar and his sister to the United States.
Master Sergeant Sar: “We stayed in a camp near Kao-I-Dang for 5-6 months, and then we stayed in Kao-I-Dang camp for another 4 months. Between 1980-81, we immigrate to Rockville, Maryland.”
At nineteen (19), he left home to join the U.S. Army, and was eventually selected for its elite Special Forces unit in 2003. Sar explains why he was not reluctant to join the military.
Master Sergeant Sar: “I was not scared because I experienced combat life under the Khmer Rouge Regime. My parents always told me that, “Everyone dies in this life, and you don’t choose where you die- and this made me try even harder”
In his twenty-one years in the Army, Sergeant Sar has fought in the first Gulf War, and was deployed to (15) other countries, including Afghanistan and Cambodia. Sar believes strongly in his military mission.
Master Sergeant Sar: “My parents used to tell me, [that] you have to love your country, regardless if your country is rich or poor.”
The 'Special Forces Unit', in which Sar belongs to, is considered to be a highly sought after military program. And it has strict requirements.
Master Sergeant Sar: “Out of 100 applicants, only 3 to 4 people are accepted. First, you have to be an American citizen, and secondly you have to be in a training program. After they checked your psychological and physical health, you will go into military training. The training takes approximately two years, and it’s very costly. Hence, it’s very difficult for them (military) to let you leave the program.”
As a Master Sergeant, Sarun is able to command the respect of his subordinates and fellow soldiers. He is Master Sergeant to 12 soldiers in the ‘Special Force Unit’, and up to 700 foreign soldiers when he is deployed to other countries.
Master Sergeant Sar: “I like my job because although your skin is different, it does not matter. If you do your job right, and if you are a good person you will get their respects. Since my story got broadcasted in the media, many Cambodians emailed me to congratulate me on the award, and say that because of this they are inspired to join the army”.
In May 2006, Sarun received the Silver Star for his leadership and bravery in combat. A military campaign that almost took his life. Sergeant Sar's unit was conducting aerial reconnaissance in eastern Afghanistan. When their helicopters landed, they instantly came under enemy attack. A firefight and a chase pursued that led him to a bunker.
Master Sergeant Sar: “I fired [my weapon] when I got closed to the enemy. Some of them died and a few ran into the bushes. Within a few minutes, I got shot. I got shot in the head, but my helmet blocked the bullet. I killed the person who shot me; then we proceeded to transport the injured civilians onto our helicopters. And we continued with our firefight pursuit.”
Sarun tells us that although he was scared, he is always willing to die to protect his soldiers.
Master Sergeant Sar: “Of course I was scared, but I am their leader and as their leader I have to protect my soldiers. I must lead the group- this is the rule. I love the soldiers even more than my own family- because we depend on each other for our lives when we are at war.”
Sergeant Sar’s heroism has received international coverage through major media networks, such as CNN, Fox News, and Cambodia Television, CTN. And yet, he is indifferent to fame.
Master Sergeant Sar: “ This is my job- I am not a hero, because this is my job. When you see your friends injured you go to their rescues.”
In response to the controversy surrounding the war in Iraq, Sar says that his sense of duty as a solider is deeply ingrained in his personal belief in the need to protect US citizens and US interests.
Master Sergeant Sar: “I am a soldier, so wherever they send me, I will go. The people at home only see what’s being aired on their television screens. [In Afghanistan] I saw that the civilians needed us- they were poor, they were afraid, and they wanted someone to protect them and their family.
Sarun Sar has been promoted to Sergeant Mayor, and he is currently stationed in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.