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Van Nguyen was an avid motorcycle cross rider as a teenager. Years after his retirement from the Marine Corps, he and his friends make an annual trip called a “man-cation” to engage in off-road riding.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Paul S. Martinez

What I've learned: Van Nguyen

18 Jun 2014 | Lance Cpl. Paul S. Martinez

Van Nguyen was an avid motorcycle cross rider as a teenager. Years after his retirement from the Marine Corps, he and his friends make an annual trip called a “man-cation” to engage in off-road riding.

>I was in the Marine Corps for more than 28 years, starting as a private and making my way up to lieutenant colonel by the time I retired.

>I went through an enlisted commissioning program, going through the Broadened Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training program first. Through BOOST, enlisted Marines with educationally deprived or culturally different backgrounds were allowed an opportunity to compete more equitably for commissioning education programs. It helped them with college preparation for a year, and allowed them to apply for another program. I did BOOST and then the Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program.

>I was a sergeant when I was selected, and went to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. I majored in business administration, and jumped from sergeant to second lieutenant nearly overnight.

>After The Basic School, I became an adjutant, doing that my entire commission. I served at nearly every level of command in the Marine Corps, from battalions to Headquarters Marine Corps. I also participated in Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

>I came to Twentynine Palms, Calif., several times in uniform. Once as a corporal going through the Combined Arms Exercise, and later as a lieutenant out of adjutant school with 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment. They’re in Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., now, but they were here at one time.

>[My family and I] like it here. I came back after I retired in 2010 and the job for deputy G-1 became available. It was a perfect fit for me because I did the same thing that I did in uniform, yet I wouldn’t wear a uniform at all.

>I think it’s in my advantage to bring all of the experience I had in the Marine Corps to my civilian job. In the role that I’m in now, I don’t find it as stressful as when I wore a uniform. I don’t deploy, I just do temporary additional duty at the most.

>I still work with Marines, being in charge of them and civilians. Having been there and done that, I can see what they’re going through as far as issues and matters that come up.

>When I was in Okinawa, I deployed to Afghanistan in April 2004. I served as a G-1 mentor for the Afghan National Army. I helped them develop personnel policies, retirements, promotions and integration of the militia into the ANA. It was a very interesting six months.

>I was also stationed in Marine Forces Europe and Africa, in Stuttgartt, Germany. That was one of my most memorable tours. Europe was a great place to be.

>I chose to come back to Twentynine Palms because I prefer smaller communities, not where there’s a whole lot of traffic or people. There’s clean air and a lot of wide open spaces with a reasonable cost of living to match.

>It also offers me my perfect combination of skiing and snowboarding. Big Bear, Calif., is not far away, and I go there every chance I get in the winter. I picked up skiing when I was in Germany, and when I came back here I taught myself how to snowboard to the point where I enjoy that more than skiing.

>Another hobby of mine is dirt bike and quad riding. Every Fall, myself and some friends go on what we call a “man-cation.” Most of us are retired or former military.

>We started the tradition with four guys and now we are up to about a dozen. Once a year, we meet up somewhere in the nation and ride our dirt bikes and four-wheelers for five days.

>It’s a time for camaraderie and friendship. Every year we pick a different location. We went to Utah the first year, West Virginia the second year and Colorado last year. This year we plan on going to Wyoming.

>As a teenager, I used to ride motocross. After joining the Marine Corps, I became too occupied with deployments, work and my family.

>Now that I’m retired, I feel I can relax a little more and get back to doing some of the things I love doing.

>I have a Kawasaki 700 Prairie. It’s a four-wheel drive, 700 cubic centimeter, utility quad that pretty much takes me wherever I want to go.

>I have a 16-year-old son. At his age, riding is all I would do. I thought that my son would like to get into that hobby, and with me, both he and my daughter do it periodically.

>I think it’s important for everyone to do something they love to relieve stress and make friends. You’ve got to find time to get away from work and just wind down.

>I’ve been retired almost four years and I’m starting to see people come and go. The mentality of being in almost 30 years and moving every two to three years, you’re the one used to packing up and moving. It feels different not doing it. But that’s part of the transition out of uniform and into civilian life.

>Try to enjoy the time you’re given when you’re in the places you would never expect. There’s beauty everywhere, you just have to go out and look for it.

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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms