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Friday, January 13, 2012

Vietnam vet joins ‘today’s war’

By Martin Kuz

 ASMAR, Afghanistan — No mess hall, showers or two-week leave. No mail, cellphones or Internet. No drinking tea with villagers. No helping them start businesses.

Staff Sgt. Larry Marquez, an Army reservist with the 425th
Civil Affairs Battalion, is serving in Afghanistan 39 years after deploying
to Cambodia as a teenager during the Vietnam War


Much more than 39 years separates the experience of a U.S. soldier in Cambodia in 1973 and in Afghanistan in 2012. Staff Sgt. Larry Marquez has lived the difference. He was there then; he’s here now.

“The biggest change is, the guys in Vietnam, Cambodia — they were drafted. They were doing a job because they had to,” said Marquez, 55, of El Paso, Texas, an Army reservist with Company D, 425th Civil Affairs Battalion.
“The guys in Afghanistan, they want to be doing this. You can see that in their attitude.”

Marquez belonged to the minority of soldiers who signed up for the Vietnam War, enlisting at 17 with his parents’ consent.

The teenage artilleryman reported to duty in Cambodia as U.S. forces began staggering toward the exits of the longest conflict in American history prior to the war in Afghanistan.

Despite the privation that U.S. soldiers face here, for Marquez, even the most primitive outpost feels like Versailles compared to the jungle encampments of Southeast Asia. He and his fellow soldiers subsisted solely on C rations and bathed with water scooped from rivers and puddles. Air conditioning? Find some shade. Heat? Build a fire.

His unit was so deep in the bush during its yearlong, no-leave deployment that the men went without the simple comfort of what is now quaintly called snail mail.

“Email, Facebook, Skype — we didn’t have any of that stuff,” he said. “Back then, we told stories to each other to pass the time. All you had were the guys around you.”

Trading in the good life

I met Marquez at Combat Outpost Monti, a small base in Kunar province and the seventh in eastern Afghanistan where he has been stationed since deploying in July. His return to the dirt required persistence and a little serendipity.

He left the reserves in 1987 during a period of relative idleness for the U.S. military. When the Persian Gulf War began three years later, he tried to rejoin, only to see his request sucked into a bureaucratic black hole.

Finally, in 2007, following a chance meeting at a friend’s party with a reserves recruiter who offered to help him, Marquez was again in uniform.

By then, he had lost his chance to serve in Iraq with the 425th. Four years later, after taking part in peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Russia, he headed back to a combat zone, this time as a graybeard instead of a fresh-faced teen.

“If I go out with these young guys on a patrol, they’re always asking if I need water, if I’m getting tired,” said Marquez, who apart from a tweaked hamstring has held up against the physical rigors of deployment. “They’re always watching out for the old man.”

He and his wife, Marcia, live in Carlsbad, Calif., with the youngest two of his seven children. Their home stands less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean. His civilian job as a nuclear specialist pays “extremely, extremely well.”

In other words, he traded the good life for bullets and mortars and IEDs. I asked the obvious question: What the hell was he thinking?

“I wanted to be part of today’s war,” he said. “I felt like I had something I needed to finish.”

‘Their very good friend’

In Cambodia, as an infantryman, Marquez sought to destroy. In Afghanistan, as a civil affairs specialist, he attempts to build.

He has traversed Kunar and neighboring Nangarhar province to hand out “micro-grants” of up to $5,000 to help entrepreneurs launch or expand small businesses.

Among other ventures, he has provided funding for a taxi service, bicycle repair shop and computer classes.

Along the way, he has drank a billion cups of tea with villagers looking to win him over.

“Once they find out who I am and what I can give them,” he said with a smile, “I become their very good friend.”

Vietnam slowly stabilized in the decades after the war there ended in 1975. Marquez, while unsure of Afghanistan’s long-term prospects, predicts that violence, and perhaps civil war, awaits when U.S. forces withdraw in 2014.

“As soon as we leave, it’s going to go back to the way it was,” he said. “I just don’t think the problems will be solved.”

The question of this country’s fate aside, the difference between the two wars that Marquez appreciates above all others is the reception given to returning troops in America.

“Nobody gave a crap about the soldier in the ’70s,” he said. “Today, you walk into a Jack in the Box and someone sees your uniform and buys you dinner. These young guys deserve that kind of respect.”

Spoken like a man as wise as his years.




Stars and Stripes
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Large group of U.S. tycoons visit Cambodia for investment possibilities

PHNOM PENH, Jan. 13 (Xinhua) -- A large group of 96 U.S. billionaires, mostly spouses, have been visiting Cambodia in order to explore investment opportunities, said a senior Cambodian official.

The delegation was from the United States' Chief Executive Organization (CEO) and was led by Kenneth M. Quinn, former U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia and president of the World Food Prize Foundation, and John Ruan III, a member of the CEO and chairman of the Ruan Transportation Management Systems.

On Thursday afternoon, the delegation had met with Cambodia's government officials led by Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon, who is also the minister of economy and finance, at the Peace Palace.

"The delegation wanted to study about Cambodia's potentials for investment opportunities," Om Yintieng, advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen, told reporters after the meeting. "They can be new investors for Cambodia in the future."

The delegation members are from sectors of education, investment and financial consultation, banking and finance, IT, pharmaceutical and health product manufacturing, tourism, energy, food manufacturing, real estate and transportation.

During the meeting, Keat Chhon said that the delegation's visit reflected their confidence in full political stability in Cambodia and it could be a boost for the investment from the United States to Cambodia.

He also presented the group about Cambodia's potentials for investment in the fields of agriculture, agro-industry, tourism, mining, oil and gas, energy, transportation and telecommunication.

Meanwhile, John Ruan III said that the group hailed the rapid development of Cambodia in all fields and added that the visit to Cambodia was to eye the country's potentials and challenges for future investment consideration.

Om Yintieng said "Currently, Cambodia has seen increasing number of investors from the United States and Japan thanks to our efforts to fight against corruption."

They arrived in Cambodia on Wednesday night by a cruise ship for an one-week visit after visiting Vietnam.

The U.S. Chief Executive Organization has the maximum 2,000 members -- all of them are tycoons with the age of at least 50 years old, said Om Yintieng.
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Nine more Cambodian ‘loggers’ nabbed in Laos

By Tep Nimol


Nine Cambodians had been apprehended after illegally entering Laos near the Stung Treng border on Tuesday, officials said yesterday.

Sun Ban, commander at police station 701 on the Cambodia-Laos border in Siem Pang district, told the Post yesterday the nine men captured in Laos’s Champasak district were thought to have been logging illegally.

Laotian authorities had not yet provided further details to their Cambodian counterparts, he said.

Siem Pang district police chief Var Sophan said he had not yet received calls for help from the families of the men.

Under a district border agreement, the men would be released if their families paid Laos US$500 each, he said.

Tuesday’s incident comes less than a month after Laotian authorities detained 19 Cambodians for illegal logging in the same area.

Fifteen of them were released two weeks ago after their families each paid more than $450 to Laos for their freedom.
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Back Home in Cambodia With Food as Comfort

By Seth Mydans


PHNOM PENH — The really challenging thing is trying to teach his countrymen how to eat a hamburger — a culture clash that is more than culinary as he tries to fit himself, like a lost piece in a puzzle, back into the land of his birth.

His Cambodian name is Chenda Im, but after more than 30 years as a refugee in the United States, he goes by Mike, and he is the founder, owner, manager, cook and pitchman of Mike’s Burger House, which he opened on the lot of a gas station here after his return four years ago.

“I’m American, and I already know how to handle burgers,” he said, as a salsa tune played in his restaurant. “The Cambodians, they eat the bun and then a little bit here and a little bit there. I say, ‘No, you just press down on the bun and eat it.’ And sometimes they say, ‘Don’t tell me how to eat. I’ll eat it my way.”’

Mike’s experience pitching hamburgers in Phnom Penh offers a look at the particular kind of culture shock experienced by people returning to their own culture.

He is a truly hybrid Cambodian-American — a survivor of the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge period, when 1.7 million people died by execution, forced labor and starvation from 1975 to 1979; then a mail carrier for 22 years near Long Beach, California; and now one of a trickle of refugees who continue to return to restart life in the land they once fled.

It is not a large number. Over the years some have returned to enter politics and some to try their hands at businesses. Many leave after a while. One group that does not have the option of returning to the United States is made up of Cambodian-born U.S. citizens who were convicted of felonies in their adopted country and sent back here under a special deportation law.

Mike, who left at the age of 19 and is now 51, said he planned to stay. Among others who have returned and stayed are Ou Virak and Theary Seng, prominent advocates of a U.S. brand of human rights and civil society, which at this point fits a little awkwardly with Cambodia’s strong-arm form of government.

Mike is a champion of the juicy all-beef hamburger, another import that is struggling to graft itself onto the local culture. There are no international hamburger chains in Cambodia, and Americans who live here say Mike makes the only truly American burgers in Phnom Penh.

“Let me show them the way Americans eat,” Mike said, describing the training of his staff. “Show them it’s clean, safe, how to wash, really clean, from the bathroom to the kitchen. That’s the way Americans handle food. The more you keep clean, the healthier you are.”

Mike’s Burger House has been open for about six months, and with its sign advertising “I’m a Crazy Burger!” it is an almost perfect replica of any hamburger hangout attached to a gas station in the United States.

Its front counter displays packets of Americana: Pringles potato chips, Slim Jim meat snacks, Rip Rolls and Reese’s candy, Red Vine licorice, Ritz Crackers, Oreo cookies and Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies.

Americans who live here say Mike’s offers a little taste of home. But for many Cambodians, hamburgers remain a challenge.

“Sometimes the Cambodian people think I look down on them — ‘They don’t know how to eat’ — so I’ve got to step back and say, ‘O.K., you do it your way,”’ he said.

Mike himself seems a little uncertain about his place between the two worlds. “I have a warm feeling here, just a warm feeling,” he said. “Everywhere I go, I feel like I’m at home.”

But he also said, “My heart is still American,” and he speaks of his fellow Cambodians with some of the bafflement of an outsider.

“On the street I don’t feel it’s hard to fit in,” he said. “The only difference is the way we talk in the United States. You say something straight, and they think you’re saying something bad.”

But like Mike, all those of a certain age are children of the killing fields, when most lost relatives, and many continue to live with trauma.

“I’ve seen a lot of murdering,” Mike said.

“It’s just terrible when you see the bodies,” he said, describing one atrocity, “people screaming for help, women delivering babies on the ground. I thought, ‘How am I going to get through this? I’m going to die, I’m going to die.”’

Like many survivors of the Khmer Rouge, he also carries with him a lingering memory of hunger. “Since then, I just love to eat,” Mike said.

“Me and my dad and my sister, we ate a lot of bamboo shoots,” he recalled. “Even now I can still do a chicken soup with bamboo shoots.”

The memory spurred a panegyric to the joys of bamboo shoots.

“You can do a soup, you can do a curry,” he said. “You can dry it out and do sweet brown rice with pork. Then there’s bamboo shoots with water and salt, and along the road there’s lemon grass. You can eat it with a little rice or noodles.”

Food was an entry point for many Cambodian refugees into the U.S. economy. Hundreds opened donut shops and virtually took over the donut industry in Southern California. The Cambodian donut shop became as common locally as the Chinese laundry and the Vietnamese nail salon.

Mike took another path, and after graduating from Long Beach Community College, he landed what he said was a dream job as a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service.

“I was so excited!” he said, growing excited again. “Are you kidding me? The post office! They started me at $10.75 an hour — I’m a rich man!”

“I tell you, I love the job, I love the job,” he said. “You just go out there delivering the mail, you put the right mail to the houses, I was running, boom, boom, boom, boom.”

There was rain, there were dogs, there were long days, but he was happy.

“If you compare this with the killing field, it was heaven,” he said. “What are those guys complaining about? It was easy for me.”

But as his marriage collapsed and his personal life came apart, he decided to take a look at Cambodia, where he met and married a young woman, Borey Mean, who is now 29 and works side by side with him at the burger house.

It was love at first sight. “My heart just came out — boom — like popcorn!” she said, throwing her arms into the air. As for her effect on Mike, “She pulled me from the U.S.A. to here,” he said.

After returning from a visit with him to the United States, where they sampled every kind of fast food, Ms. Borey Mean said, she told her husband, “I miss hamburgers!” So, he said, “I made hamburgers, just to please her.”

“I got a kilogram of meat and brought it home,” he said. “I chopped it and pounded it. You make the meatball first, make it into a patty, and I fried it for her and put on the sauce, and she said, ‘This is it! Oh my goodness, this is it!”’

When Mike instructs his Cambodian customers on the right way to eat a hamburger, his all-American enthusiasm bursts through.

“When you bite into it, you’ve got to feel it from top to bottom,” he says he tells them. “You’ve got to sink your teeth into the soft bun, and when you hit the meat, the sauce, the crunchy iceberg lettuce, all the way down, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. Your body is going to crave it. You’ll call for more.”
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2 nonprofit medical missions prepare for Cambodia trips

By Greg Mellen Staff Writer


LONG BEACH - Two local nonprofits are in the homestretch of planning medical missions to Cambodia later this month.

Hearts Without Boundaries will be teaming with Children's Lifeline to provide cardiac surgeries to a dozen destitute children in Siem Reap.

And Cambodia Health Professionals Association of America will embark on its second trip to Cambodia, a six-day mission to treat 1,000 patients per day in Koh Kong province in southern Cambodia.

On Saturday, Hearts Without Boundaries is holding a fundraising dinner and party in advance of its mission, while CHPAA will finish packing for its journey by bundling health supplies at St. Mary Medical Center.

The two separate missions will save lives and deliver health care where they might not be otherwise available.
Hearts Without Boundaries, which has brought four children with heart defects to the United States for surgeries over the past four years, will for the first time help bring the care directly to the children in Cambodia.

Both organizations are upping the ante significantly. Hearts Without Boundaries will be assisting surgeons perform life-saving surgeries in Siem Reap; Cambodian Health Professionals, in its second trip, expects to double the number of patients it saw last year.

In recent years, HWB has assisted physicians with the nonprofit Variety Children's Lifeline in performing minor heart procedures at Angkor Hospital For Children, and taught Cambodian physicians how to perform the procedures themselves.


Last year, the hospital finally received the equipment needed to perform open heart surgery. Between Jan. 23 and Jan. 28, doctors from the University of California, San Diego Rady Children's Hospital and Children's Hospital Wisconsin will be able to perform operations and teach Cambodian health providers how to perform more advanced surgeries.

The doctors will treat a dozen patients. Six will receive open-heart surgeries.

In the United States, congenital heart defects requiring open heart surgery are typically performed in a child's first year. In Cambodia, many children never receive treatment and die young.

Peter Chhun, founder of Hearts Without Boundaries, cited a recent report that found 100,000 Cambodian children suffer from congenital defects, and 10 percent of those are in urgent need of surgery.

While bringing children to the U.S. is gratifying, Chhun hopes to be able to help fund more efficient missions like this to Cambodia, where children can be treated for a fraction of the cost. And, as Cambodian doctors are trained, they will be able to take over providing the surgeries themselves in years to come.

Last year, Cambodian Health Professionals conducted its first mission to Cambodia, called Project Angkor, and was overwhelmed by the response in the United States and abroad.

More than 50 volunteers traveled to Cambodia and provided medical and dental care to more than 500 patients per day. Even then, according to Teri Tan, who helped run the mission, between 2,000 and 3,000 had to be turned away.

This year, the group also plans to bring about 5,000 pounds in supplies, the last of which they will be preparing Saturday morning at the Health Enhancement Center Building at the St. Mary campus.

One of the volunteers on his first mission is Kosal Kom. The Long Beach dentist is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide that caused the deaths of upward of 2 million Cambodians. Last year, Kom assisted with preparations but was unable to make the trip.

"This time I'm in it from A to Z," Kom said.

He and five other dentists will perform extractions and restoration where possible.

"I'm very excited," Kom said. "It gives me a feeling of satisfaction."

greg.mellen@presstelegram.com, 562-714-2093


Want to go?

What: Hearts Without Boundaries fundraiser

When: Saturday,

6 p.m. to midnight

Where: Golden Villa, 1360 Anaheim Ave., Long Beach

Cost: A donation of $35,

$20 for students, is requested
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