When Koy Punnarin was young, his family was rescued from the Khmer Rouge by American soldiers. Now, at age 39, he is a captain in the US Army Reserves who recently returned from Iraq, where he was deployed for nearly a year as the commander of a maintenance company.
"With over 270 soldiers, we occupied over eight different locations throughout Iraq," Koy Punnarin told VOA recently.
In 1975, Koy Punnarin, whose father worked for the US Embassy, and his family were taken out of Phnom Penh by helicopter. They were flown to a Thai refugee camp and eventually resettled in America. He became a soldier, he said, because he never forgot the good will shown him and his family when he was a boy. He told VOA he sees his military service as a way to repay a debt.
In Iraq, he said, he would venture out of base camp once every two weeks or so to check up on the soldiers in eight different locations. His primary role in the army was to support combat forces by ensuring all of the troops were stocked with supplies.
Now back in Minnesota, Koy Punnarin leads a taekwondo school, trains for fighting competitions and runs a financial practice.