WASHINGTON — While making a round of Thanksgiving Day calls to deployed service members, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel found that he had plenty to talk about with a young airman serving in Afghanistan.
Like Hagel, Staff Sgt. Jerry T. Nong is from Nebraska, having grown up in Omaha. And Nong was born in Vietnam, the country where Hagel was twice wounded as a volunteer infantry sergeant in the Vietnam War.
Hagel started off his Thanksgiving with his calls to service members participating in U.S. military operations around the world.
“In each of the calls, Secretary Hagel noted that he knows how difficult it is to be away from home on this holiday and thanked the service members and their families for their sacrifice for the nation,” Assistant Press Secretary Carl Woog said in a statement.
Hagel called a member of each service. Representing the Air Force was Nong, 28, an Omahan deployed to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan with the 455th Expeditionary Communications Squadron.
Just after dinnertime in Afghanistan, Nong got the call from Hagel, who had represented Nebraska in the U.S. Senate.
Nong's family moved to Omaha from Vietnam when he was 6, and his parents still live in the city. Nong has returned to Vietnam a couple of times, he told Hagel.
The two discussed Vietnam, Nebraska and Nong's seven-year career in the Air Force.
Nong leads a group of airmen responsible for installing and maintaining communications equipment and has been recognized for his service more than once, including by the Army garrison commander at the base.
Hagel reportedly told Nong that he was proud of everything he was doing — but the secretary was disappointed to learn that the Omahan was not a die-hard Cornhusker fan.
Nong told Hagel he's more interested in the NBA.